Kabul, 16 August 2022 – In early 2021, Wargis,* a young Hazara woman, worked as an English teacher in northern Kabul. Not far from her, Sheeba* had dreams of pursuing higher education and eventually opening up her own computer centre that charges low fees for women in her area.

Jobs for men were booming in the construction sector as the neighbourhood expanded from a deserted land to a new home for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees coming back to their homeland. Homes, schools, and road infrastructure had rapidly developed. For women, beauty parlours and tailoring shops were being established, as many of them had taken up these skills.

Though tensions and unease for women had been growing over the last two years, most women in the area expressed hope to study, work and build their lives within their community.

A neighbourhood beauty parlour in Shahrake Mahdia, Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Samuel Hall 2021/Nassim Majidi

However, on 15 August 2021, everything changed overnight.

In the immediate aftermath, the private sector crumbled, and the Taliban were unable to pay public sector staff, creating uncertainty and fear about the future. Many businesses closed, as both employers and employees, mostly men, were forced to migrate abroad due to the impact of sanctions and rising inflation. Women often remained behind in the areas they lived in, facing restrictions on movement, education, and work under the Taliban.

“The main concern for me is that I can’t work and go to university anymore. I have been restricted and I am not a free person. When I think about my past efforts, my heart bleeds. Now, I am with no achievements,” stated Resham.*

Escape became the preferred option, but there are clear limitations for women. Some women with male family members who had migrated earlier expressed fear over crossing international borders alone. This was compounded for some, like Resham, who also had female family members with significant health issues, whom they would also be responsible for during migration.

“My father is in Iran and he says if we can [we should] go to Iran illegally, but my sister’s health problem is serious and we can’t take the risk,” added Resham.

Many, like Wargis, have been waiting for help from their family members abroad who had not been able to obtain legal status that would allow for family reunification.

Moreover, many of the women remaining in Afghanistan lack information about how the diaspora could help their family members and other Afghans in the country. Others report uncertainty about whether they could access passport services, travel abroad, or if their work would resume in the future.

For many women who stayed behind, their day-to-day lives changed drastically – in particular, their mobility. Many were too scared to leave their homes and had given up all previous activities, including community groups and women’s empowerment projects. They returned to being trapped within the four walls of their rooms, much as in the first era of the Taliban’s rule, or at least what they had heard of it.

Afghan women and girls have suffered disproportionately following the change in governance, with violations, vulnerabilities and protection concerns on the rise. Photo: Samuel Hall 2021

“Women are restricted; they can’t go outside to work or to get an education. Public service is completely diminished. People want to receive their national ID and passports but there is no organization to offer them services. Educational centres are open but girls are restricted from school and university. Our future is completely dark and we see no light in our lives,” said Wargis.

The near erasure of women from the economy has far-reaching impacts on communities, as women were the backbone of the Afghan economy, providing their invaluable contributions as medical staff, educators, and entrepreneurs. They are now, for all practical purposes, unable to work due to new restrictions.

All women and girls in Afghanistan have a right to access to education and equal opportunities. They must be empowered and included in the social, economic, and political life in Afghanistan – this is crucial to the future and development of the country.

The women who have remained in Afghanistan ask: “What will await us now?” One year on, the answer seems to be taking a gradual turn for the worse as women’s rights and freedoms – including the freedom of movement – continue to erode.

Durable solutions are critical to support Afghan women who have remained behind, for example, by providing legal documentation, access to protection and basic services, and continuation of humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable – particularly those who are displaced or returning.

The conversation must be continued to highlight women’s voices and craft solutions based on their needs.

As Resham stated, “My message to the international community is that the situation is very bad for Afghans; we need their attention and support. They must consider women’s rights and freedom. People are dying from poverty and limited access to finance. So, now is the time to increase their humanitarian activities and rescue us.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

About this research

In June 2021, a team of Samuel Hall researchers was conducting research in Kabul’s northern district of Dashte Barchi called Shahrake Mahdia on how migration was foundational to the town’s development as well as for the hopes of its women – much like Wargis, Sheeba and Resham.

On 15 August 2021, everything changed. The women who shared their stories with us in June, spoke to us again in September. This blog focuses on their voices. The data collection included key informant interviews with 17 local residents – business owners, non-governmental organization employees, government officers, police, teachers, and youth representatives – informal interactions and observations, as well as four focus groups with men and women. Follow-up calls in September 2021 were carried out with several women and business owners initially interviewed in June, in order to capture their thoughts and how their situation had changed under the Taliban.

IOM partners with Samuel Hall on different research projects. This text is based on the article “Afghan women, migration and their future” by the Samuel Hall authors Nassim Majidi, Najia Alizada, Katherine James and Marta Bivand Erdal, and was published in the Special Migration Policy Practice Issue on Afghanistan in June 2022.

SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions