What will happen to girls and women of Afghanistan as the Taliban is back in control?

Women with their children try to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Stringer.

After Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban, what happens next? Afghani women made huge strides in equality over the past 20 years — going to schools, working outside their homes, and becoming police officers, journalists, and elected members of Parliament. Will those gains evaporate with the Taliban in power?

Photojournalist Lynsey Addario has firsthand knowledge of life under the Taliban. In the early 2000s, she visited Afghanistan three times, had to be accompanied by a man at all times, and had to sneak into residents’ homes to photograph them.

“Women could not work outside the home except for a few doctors. Very brave Afghan women opened secret girls' schools in their basements and their homes,” Addario says. “Essentially, I was running around photographing this underground network of what life was like for women under the Taliban.” 

Over the years, she’s also photographed Afghani women as they graduated from high school and college and then found jobs.

“I've watched them sort of really get out there and live their lives. And it is not easy in a place like Afghanistan, because even though it was no longer under the Taliban, it is still a deeply conservative tribal culture. And it is not easy for a woman to get permission to work outside the home,” she explains. “Everything was a negotiation and a very delicate balance of how you, as an Afghan woman, abide to the cultural norms and also have the freedom and liberty to go out and work. And a lot of that is dependent on the men in their family.”

Qismat Amin is a former U.S. military translator from Afghanistan, and he says the Taliban’s presence creates an uncertain and terrifying future for residents, including women. He’s concerned for his own family, especially his sisters. One works at a women’s rights organization and the other is in college. His mom is also keeping important family documents secure in the home, just in case. 

“People actually don't know what tomorrow is holding for them. So they're really, really terrifying. It's just a nightmare, to be honest,” Amin tells KCRW. “These people literally have power over everything. And they can literally make a rule, and they can literally run the country how they want it.” 

He says his family is avoiding leaving their home when possible. 

“We're not seeing any women on the street. … You can’t see a lot of men there, like my brother. He's a man but he is terrified for [himself]. So he said, ‘I can't even go outside.’ And he goes outside just like maybe walk a few blocks and then come back.’”

Addario adds that no women she knows dare to step outside of their homes. 

“It's exactly like it was under the Taliban. And so, all of those women who have been out working every single day for the last X amount of years are at home because they're terrified naturally,” she says. “I think the Taliban is, of course, on their best behavior right now. They're making all sorts of promises that women can stay in school and go to high school and graduate and work. But really, the truth will lie on what happens when all of the foreigners are out of the country, probably in the next two to three weeks.”

Credits

Guests:

  • Lynsey Addario - Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who has covered the war in Afghanistan for 20 years - @lynseyaddario
  • Qismat Amin - former translator for the U.S. military (2010-2013); Afghan from Shinwar District in Nangarhar Province