A former government worker and journalist says she feels her years of work and education mean nothing under the Taliban's rule.
“As a woman, I studied and worked hard to have a better future and be independent."
As the Taliban advanced towards Kabul last August, Marina, not her real name, was calm as she dropped off her son at kindergarten and went to work at a government ministry.
“There were rumours that the Taliban would capture the city, but I tended to ignore them because I did not believe it would happen,” Marina tells Afghan Witness (AW).
That day life changed for Marina and millions of others in Afghanistan. She was working on a report when the head of security came into the office and told the team to evacuate – the Taliban had entered Kabul. Marina quickly collected her son and left the building, but the city was congested with traffic as people made a desperate attempt to flee.
“I went into deep shock and was traumatised by the events of that day,” she recalls. “My mental state became unstable for weeks.”
Grappling with a new life
Originally from the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan, Marina, mother of three children, moved to Kabul after completing her studies. After working for an NGO, in 2016 she started working in the media and communications department for one of the government's ministries.
Alongside her main job, Marina worked on one of Afghanistan’s national TV channels as a producer and was active in civil society. She also taught at a private university and had her articles on human rights, conflict resolution and politics published in academic journals.
“I never imagined that despite working so hard – learning and then teaching and also contributing to the media and civil society – there would be a day when all of it would mean nothing,” Marina says. “I never imagined a day would come when we would wish for the ‘good old days’ – the experiences and the hard work. They were gone so quickly and taken from our hands.”
Prevented from working
Several days after the Taliban takeover, Marina attempted to return to work, but she was turned away from the gates of the ministry.
“They told me that I can no longer work, and I was not allowed to go in,” she says.
Since then, Marina has been unemployed, only attending occasional meetings and gatherings with the journalists' association she is a member of. Marina says she’s joined some demonstrations to protest for women’s right to work, and has applied for other jobs but has so far been unsuccessful.
Since returning to power, while not explicitly banning females from working, the Taliban has continued to eliminate women from workplaces. In September, the new Taliban mayor of Kabul told female municipal employees to stay home unless their jobs were unable to be filled by a man. Women account for 20% of Afghanistan’s workforce, and restricting women from working could cost the Afghan economy up to $1 billion, the United Nations Development Programme said in December.
“As a woman, I studied and worked hard to have a better future and be independent,” Marina adds.
“Before the Taliban came to power, some people said that they had changed – their thoughts on girls’ education and women’s rights had changed. However, the Taliban are the same as they were in the nineties.”
No high school for girls
While the Taliban initially suggested their rule would be ‘softer’ this time around, many fear that recent restrictions resemble their regime in the 1990s - when women were banned from working and girls couldn’t go to school. After a U-turn on reopening girls’ high schools last month, the Taliban’s education ministry announced school openings would be postponed “until further notice when a comprehensive plan, in accordance with Sharia and Afghan culture, is developed”.
Marina says the Taliban “have resentment towards educated women”, adding that the group’s restrictions against girls’ and women’s access to education are “purely political” and have “no basis in religion.”
“In Islam and in Afghanistan’s culture, education has been promoted throughout history – women and girls had no barrier seeking education,” she says.
In Afghanistan, some girls have missed over 200 days of school after the Taliban backtracked on their decision to reopen girls’ high schools. Images of girls sobbing were widely shared on social media and by the news media – drawing global condemnation.
“I feel hopeless about their future,” Marina says, referring to the girls who have been barred from education. “The tears in their eyes and the hopelessness on their faces can only be understood by other women who have studied, and other humans with consciousness.”
Image is not of individual interviewed; credit: ResoluteSupportMedia, marked with CC BY 2.0.
Interview by Afghan Witness