Kabul, Afghanistan – As a 35-year-old university professor, Nazifa regularly took the local minivan, a popular form of transportation in the Afghan capital Kabul, for her daily commute from home to university and back. As a native of the city, she was very familiar with the roads, streets, and alleys, and she rarely felt uncomfortable traveling alone.
That was until last week, when the minivan carrying Nazifa, who asked to have her name changed, was stopped by a Taliban guard.
“I was on my way home with another colleague when a Taliban stopped our car and asked us where our mahram was. [male guardian] it was. When we told him we didn’t have one, he was furious,” he told Al Jazeera.
“He had the driver take us back to where we were picked up and told him not to take female passengers without mahrams. We had to walk for half an hour through the checkpoint before we could find another taxi that could take us home,” he said.
“I felt very desperate and sad that day,” Nazifa said. “Since then I feel very scared when I travel to work. I am so afraid that they will arrest me again and punish me. It is so humiliating to be considered so worthless in one’s own homeland,” she said, breaking down.
Reminiscent of his last regime in the 1990s.
As seize afghanistan Last year, the Taliban rulers reintroduced draconian restrictions on freedoms and movement, particularly targeting women, reminiscent of their last regime in the 1990s.
However, in recent weeks, Taliban leaders, particularly from their Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, have increasingly announced many new restrictions, even as criticism and international pressure mounts against them.
I am the father and mother of my daughters. I am the man and woman of my house. I need to go out and take care of my family. Where do I get a mahram?
In December, the ministry, which replaced the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs, restrictions placed on women of traveling more than 72 km (45 miles) without a close male relative. This restriction was further expanded last week to include foreign travel and reportedly several women traveling alone. arrested of boarding flights. Similar bans also applied inserted in various health centers across the country, prohibiting women from accessing health care without a mahram.
However, although there are no specific restrictions on women traveling within the city, the Taliban are reported to have educated local taxi drivers in Afghan cities against taking unaccompanied female passengers or if they are not dressed in a proper hijab or headscarf, as defined by the Taliban. They frequently detain women traveling alone and punish the taxi drivers who transport them.
Sadeq Akif Muhajir, a spokesman for the Taliban ministry, defended the restriction in local media, saying “these are not limitations on women, it is to protect their honor.”
However, many Afghan women disagree. “It is not possible for me to have a mahram; my husband cannot go to work with me every day,” Nazifa argued.
He questioned whether the Taliban’s intention was to dissuade women from going to work “considering the restrictions they continue to impose, I am afraid that eventually they will not let women go to work without a mahram, because having a mahram at work is not possible”, said. .
‘A long chain of broken promises’
A series of other decrees issued in recent weeks, targeting women, have mandated hijab for women in workplaces, gender segregation in public parks, and the continued closure of girls’ secondary schools, has sparked protests by Afghan women and drew strong international criticism.
The Taliban had briefly reopened girls’ schools on March 23, after months of relentless pressure. However, the celebrations were short-lived, as they were immediately closed again without any explanation.
“We were sitting in the classroom when two Taliban came in and asked us: ‘With whose permission have you entered the schools?’ They were carrying weapons and they asked us to leave,” narrated Sara, 15, with strong disappointment in her voice.
That night she cried herself to sleep, her sister said. “This is all I prayed for for the last seven months, to be able to go back to school and continue my education to achieve my dreams,” Sara said, adding that she wanted to be a judge when she grew up, a profession that the Taliban consider inappropriate for women. “Maybe they are afraid of educated women,” she said.
Describing the increasing restrictions as “a long string of broken promises,” Heather Barr, associate director of Human Rights Watch, called on the international community to increase pressure on the Taliban.
“But this burst seems to indicate an escalation in attacks on women’s rights. More generally, the Taliban appear to have given up trying to appease donors in the hope of gaining aid and recognition,” he said in a recent HRW statement.
The situation is more difficult for households headed by women, such as Gulalai, a 50-year-old widow, who also requested that her name be changed to protect her identity. On March 23, the mother of two girls was returning from the market when the Taliban stopped her taxi and questioned her about mahram.
“I was so scared that they might pull me out of the vehicle, or maybe the driver. However, before he could respond, a nice old man in the front seat intervened and pretended to be my mahram, and that’s when they let me go,” he recalled.
Gulalai’s experience left her scared and frustrated, particularly for the safety of her daughters, whom she has raised alone since losing her husband 14 years ago.
“I am the father and mother of my daughters. I am the man and woman of my house. I need to go out and take care of my family. Where do I get a mahram from? she said.
“Afghanistan has a lot of widows, and not everyone has a mahram,” Gulalai said, bringing out a disturbing but important truth about the country that has seen 40 years of war, beginning with the Russian invasion in 1979 followed by two decades of war. American occupation until last August.
The country has been recovering from a humanitarian crisis with more than half of the starving population. The Taliban have struggled to revive the aid-dependent economy, which is in free fall due to sanctions and exclusion from international financial institutions.
“For us, zamin sakht, wa asmaan door ast,” she said, quoting an old Afghan proverb that translates as “the ground is hard and the sky is high,” illustrating the challenges Afghan women face.