13 Sep 2021

Afghanistan: Women’s fears under Taliban rule

International Editor

Talibs have now raised their flag over the presidential palace, heralding the dawn of a new era. And what that new reality means for Afghan women is now becoming clear.

Many have seen their professional futures disappear already. The United Nations has said the country’s rulers have contradicted public promises on women’s rights, and is urging the international community to raise more than $600 million for Afghanistan, after foreign aid dried up. 

All over Kabul women are in hiding, concealed behind dark windows and walls. They did what western countries wanted; they worked for the government, aid agencies, the security sector. The Taliban says they can carry on, all the while sending goons to threaten them if they do.

Fatima is alone. A former policewoman, a single mother, divorced from the man she was forced to marry at the age of 12 – all crimes in the eyes of the Taliban.

Fatima Ahmadi said: “Now I’m being threatened from all sides – from the former government, from the criminals I caught when I was in the police, from the Taliban, from my relatives – so I’m living hidden from the world with my kids. I have moved three times in a single month.”

She thinks constantly of her fellow policewoman Negar Masumi, who was eight months pregnant and murdered last week.

The Taliban say they’re investigating. In the last few months, at least six policewomen were killed in Taliban-controlled areas before the capture of Kabul.

Last year, Fatima released on social media a video of herself destroying her police ID in protest about sexual harassment by her male superiors. Shamed by her behaviour, she says, her own family then tried to kill her.

Now she fears both them and the Taliban. The personal and political are intertwined.

Western countries spent an estimated $100 million training women for the Afghan security services. But most Afghan male police officers rejected them, and now the western missions who encouraged the women to blaze the trail have vanished, leaving them to their fate.

Ms Ahmadi said: “Why have they abandoned us to the Taliban? Since they were supporting us, surely they should ask what’s happening to us now? What is our crime?

“Our crime is that we were policewomen. For this crime, they kill us in the most brutal way. Why is the international community not asking about us?”

A demonstration this weekend showcased the Taliban ideal of womanhood, entirely covered and utterly obedient. A job lot of identical niqabs appear to have been acquired for the occasion. The women proclaimed their support for segregation in education, which is now the law.

At Ghalib University, they’ve started educating women and men on alternate days – as a private university they have enough facilities but public institutions are struggling.

Women are meant to be taught only by women or very old men, but there aren’t enough female teachers and lecturers. Far fewer women are showing up to class, but those who’ve come are determined.

A female medical student, who we are not naming to protect her identity, told Channel 4 News: “When a country develops, it needs women. A man and a country can’t develop without a woman or a girl. Girls or women are very important in the country. So we Afghans, we have the right to be like women in developed countries.”

Ms Ahmadi used to be proud of her uniform, but now, penniless, unable to earn a living and with no family protection, she feels that all she can do is speak out.

She said: “They will kill us. Whether or not we raise our voice, and talk in front of a camera, the Taliban will kill us anyway. That’s why I raise my voice. If I talk in front of the camera, at least after I’m gone, maybe other police women will not be killed.”

In Afghanistan’s cities, many women embraced the western project to liberate them. Some have managed to flee, but most can’t. They’re left with a new set of beliefs, for which they may end up paying with their lives.

Producer: Anna McIntosh
Camera operator/editor: Soren Munk