Afghan women marching in Kabul (Reuters) Afghan women marching in Kabul (Reuters) 

Afghan women increasingly imprisoned in their homes

A ban on studying abroad and on visiting a national park represent the most recent in a series of policies gradually shrinking women's rights and influence in Afghanistan. The Associate Director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, states how "step by step the walls are closing in on women as every home becomes a prison."

By Edoardo Giribaldi

Around 100 Afghan girls were turned away from traveling to the United Arab Emirates by local Taliban authorities, the head of a conglomerate in Dubai who would have sponsored their university education said on Wednesday.

In a video that appeared on X, formally known as Twitter, Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, founding chairman of Al Habtoor Group, reported how the "Taliban government refused to allow the girls who were coming to study here, a hundred girls sponsored by me, they refused them to board the plane and already we have paid for the aircraft, we have organized everything for them here, accommodation, education, transportation security."

Travel restrictions

The BBC gathered the testimony of a 20-year-old Afghan student who, after saying goodbye to her family and setting off for the airport, was blocked as soon as Taliban officials saw her ticket and student visa.

"They said girls are not allowed to leave Afghanistan on student visas," she recounted. According to Taliban policies, women are banned from traveling abroad by themselves and have to be accompanied by "their husbands or a related male companion such as a brother, uncle or father, known as a mahram, a male escort," the BBC wrote.

However, the girl reported, three other female students "who had a mahram were inside the plane, but officials from the Vice and Virtue ministry took them off the plane."

Band-e-Amir National Park

Afghanistan's Vice and Virtue Acting Minister, Mohammad Khaled Hanafi, has also banned women from visiting Band-e-Amir National Park in Bamiyan province, one of the most recognized attractions and the country's first national park.

The restriction was motivated by Afghan women's lack of adherence to the proper way of wearing the hijab.

The Guardian reported how, in 2013, Band-e-Amir National Park became a "potent symbol of change" after hiring four female park rangers, something that had never happened before in the country.

"The walls are closing"

Heather Barr, Associate Director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, affirmed how "Step by step the walls are closing in on women as every home becomes a prison."

The humanitarian organization inserted the ban in a broader framework of restrictions and prohibitions imposed on African women, clashing with the assurances provided by the Taliban in the first press conference held after seizing power in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021.

"We are going to allow women to study and work within our framework. Women are going to be very active in our society," the Taliban said at the time.

Afghan women's human rights

The BBC traced an overview of the gradual crushing of Afghan women's rights, starting from September 2021, when, one month following the takeover, secondary schools opened only for boys, with a statement by the Ministry of Education which provided no indications for girls.

Marches carried on throughout the streets of Afghan cities were violently repressed, and restrictions gradually increased. In what now can be considered a prelude to the actual policies, in December 2021, women traveling distances longer than 72 kilometers had to be accompanied by a close male relative, the Vice and Virtue Ministry said at the time.

Clothing policies

On May 7, 2022, Afghanistan's government issued a new legislation, validated by its supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, imposing head-to-toe clothing for women.

The BBC reported how "women began to disappear from public life" and "the number of destitute women, who had been denied the right to work and the ability to feed their families, were increasingly visible on the streets begging for help."

Universities and public spaces bans

In a couple of months, from October to December 2022, women were banned from public spaces such as gyms, swimming pools, and public baths. On December 20, 2022, the Taliban higher education minister suspended every kind of female education in all public and private universities until further notice.

Only four days later, The Taliban's Ministry of Economy imposed to all local and international NGOs in the country "to ask their female employees to stop coming to work or have their permits revoked," the BBC wrote. 

More recently, on July 2023, beauty and hair salons, defined as "the last few spaces where women could gather away from Taliban scrutiny," were shut down, leaving around 60,000 women unemployed.

"We have changed"

The BBC also reported how women are still trying to fight their way into Afghan society despite the current restrictions.

"Underground secret schools are running in parts of the country. Some NGOs still employ women who try to slip under the radar," while, running the risk of violent repressions and detention, women continue occasionally to march on the streets.

"We are not the same women the Taliban suppressed 20 years ago," one of them said. "We have changed and they will have to accept it, even if we have to give up our lives for it."

28 August 2023, 12:00