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'Virtual Prisoners:' Report Raises Alarm Over Taliban's Restrictions On Afghan Women

A woman begs on the street in Ghazni city. Many women have lost all income, despite being the sole wage earners for their families.

A new report says Taliban rule has had a "devastating impact" on Afghan women and girls, who have become "virtual prisoners" in their homes since the hard-line Islamist group took over the war-ravaged country in August.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Human Rights Institute at San Jose State University (SJSU) looked at the conditions for women since the Taliban took control in the southeastern province of Ghazni, and published their findings on January 18.

Since seizing control of the city of Ghazni on August 12, days before capturing Kabul, the Taliban has imposed policies that have created "huge barriers to women's and girls' health and education, curtailed freedom of movement, expression, and association, and deprived many of earned income," the report says.

These abuses have been exacerbated by an escalating humanitarian crisis -- caused by millions of dollars in lost income, spiking prices, aid cutoffs, a liquidity crisis, and cash shortages -- that has deprived much of the Afghan population of access to food, water, shelter, and health care.

"The crisis for women and girls in Afghanistan is escalating with no end in sight," according to Heather Barr, associate women's rights director at HRW.

Barr said that the Taliban policies "have rapidly turned many women and girls into virtual prisoners in their homes, depriving the country of one of its most precious resources, the skills and talents of the female half of the population."

The report comes a day after a group of 36 UN human rights experts raised alarm over an array of restrictive steps that have been introduced since the Taliban’s takeover, particularly those concerning women and girls.

"We are concerned about the continuous and systematic efforts to exclude women from the social, economic, and political spheres across the country," the experts said in a statement, adding that these concerns are exacerbated in the cases of women from ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities.

To conduct their research, HRW and SJSU said they remotely interviewed 10 women currently or recently in Ghazni Province, who "described spiraling prices for food staples, transportation, and schoolbooks, coupled with an abrupt and often total income loss."

Many of these women "had been the sole or primary wage earner for their family, but most lost their employment due to Taliban policies restricting women's access to work," the organizations said.

Only those working in primary education or health care were still able to work, and most were not being paid due to the financial crisis, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has "banned women and girls from secondary and higher education," report says.

The militant group also dictates "what women must wear, how they should travel, enforcing these rules through intimidation and inspections."

The Taliban-led government has ordered bus and taxi drivers not to carry women in their vehicles unless they are wearing an Islamic veil. According to the same order, drivers also are not allowed to transport unmarried women in their vehicles more than 70 kilometers.

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