The Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan in August crushed the dreams and hopes of millions of Afghan women who had made significant strides in the past 20 years.
Despite its promise to respect women’s rights, the hard-line militant group has dramatically rolled back many gains, including closing most girls’ secondary schools, banning women from most forms of employment, and preventing women’s sports.
Women who have protested for their rights have been attacked, arbitrarily detained, or forcibly disappeared.
The draconian restrictions have upended the lives of women, many of whom have grown increasingly desperate and pessimistic. RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi spoke to three Afghan women about how their lives have changed since the Taliban takeover.
Sahar, former business owner
Sahar Amani opened the first women’s clothing store in the northeastern province of Badakhshan in 2019 with five other young female university graduates.
As their business expanded, the women hired 10 more employees, including women, who worked as tailors in their store in the provincial capital, Faizabad.
When the Taliban seized power, Amani and her partners lost their right to work. Forced to close their business, the women also lost their livelihoods.
“We lost our investments, and we lost our motivation,” Amani told Radio Azadi. “Even if we start from zero again, we can’t be sure about our future.”
Amani said shopping has become difficult for many women, who must be accompanied by a male relative when they leave their homes. The country’s devastating economic and humanitarian crisis has also affected the finances of millions of people.
As the world marked International Women's Day on March 8, Amani said the occasion had “no meaning” for Afghan women.
“We don’t have any rights or freedom,” she said, lamenting that the Taliban takeover had effectively made women “prisoners in our homes.”
Yasamin, former actress
Yasamin Yarmel fled Kabul just days after the Taliban seized control of the capital on August 15.
The Taliban has not officially banned art. But hundreds of artists, including actors, singers, and painters, have escaped Afghanistan in recent months.
Many feared for their lives. Others said they would not be able to continue their artistic activities.
During the Taliban's first rule in the 1990s, films were outlawed and movie theaters were burned down.
Forced to stop her acting career, Yarmel established a secret network of schools for some 350 girls in Kabul. The Taliban had banned all girls from attending school.
But Yarmel was caught, detained, and beaten. As a result of her injuries, she suffered a miscarriage.
After the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban regime, Yarnel resumed her acting work and helped invigorate the small local film scene as it recovered from decades of conflict.
But the Taliban’s return to power, she says, spells the end of Afghan cinema.
“There is no longer art or [active] artists left in Afghanistan,” she said. “Those artists who have remained are struggling with many problems.”
Maryam, former sports teacher
Maryam was a sports teacher for more than eight years, training hundreds of young girls in her native Bamiyan Province in central Afghanistan.
But the Taliban takeover robbed her of her passion and job.
During the 1990s, the Taliban considered many sports “against human dignity” and banned them along with music, films, and other forms of entertainment.
WATCH: Housebound In Kabul, An Afghan Female Athlete Fears Dreams Have Been Cut Short
This time, the Taliban has claimed that it will not ban any sports if it complies with its interpretation of Islamic law. But it has not confirmed if it will allow women to play any sports. A senior Taliban official recently said it is "unnecessary" for women to play sports.
With no clear order from the Taliban, many women are too fearful to play sports.
“Previously, I used to train about 200 girls in volleyball, handball, and cycling,” said Maryam, a former athlete who is now unemployed. “Now, not even one of them is practicing.”
Hundreds of athletes and sports administrators have fled their homeland since the Taliban forcibly seized power, including top male athletes as well as female soccer, volleyball, and basketball players.