Women and girls in Afghanistan fear a dark future lies as the Taliban have taken control over the city of Kabul.
Taliban fighters swept into the country’s capital on Sunday (15 August) night after President Ashraf Ghani fled, with thousands of residents and foreign nationals now desperately attempting to escape.
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Chaotic scenes have broken out at Kabul Airport as Afghans scramble to catch flights and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to get as many people as possible who worked with the UK out of the country.
The Taliban’s takeover of the capital comes after almost 20 years of a US-led coalition leading the country and the withdrawal of foreign troops, which enabled fighters to take the last major city, Kabul, on Sunday.
Mr Johnson has said the UK is determined to work with allies to prevent the country from again becoming a “breeding ground for terror”, but fears are already starting to spread among those living in Afghanistan - particularly among women.
‘Our dreams are shattered’
The Taliban are notorious for their abuse of basic human rights, particularly against women and girls, and came together with the aim of making Afghanistan an Islamic state.
Under its rule former rule in the country in 1996, women and girls faced years of discrimination and saw their rights severly restricted until the US-led toppling of the regime in 2001.
The Taliban’s former regime decreed that all women should be banned from employment, and girls were denied access to education, preventing them from attending school or studying.
Women and girls were also banned from leaving their homes without a male chaperone, were not allowed to show their skin in public, could not get involved in politics or speaking publicly, and were denied access to healthcare delivered by men.
In Kabul, residents were ordered to cover the windows of ground and first-floor windows in their home to prevent women inside from being seen from the street, and it was expected that women wore a burqa while out in public to shield her identity.
Anyone who violated the rules of the Taliban faced flogging in public and execution, while rape and violence against females was rife.
With the Taliban now claiming victory in Afghanistan, it is feared that there may be a return to such austerity for females in the country.
A woman who works as a writer after finishing her degree in the Balkh province described her first job as giving her “wings to fly”, after using the money she had earned to travel alone to another country.
She spoke of wanting to take her mother, who has never left her hometown, on a trip after the pandemic, but said her dreams have now been “shattered”, along with her hopes for the future.
Speaking to the BBC, she said: "It was like my mother was living her dream through me. But she used to have this constant fear of something growing wrong - she grew up in conflict. I didn’t understand her then but I do now.
"I am broken. I am not sure if I will ever be able to work or do everything I wanted to do.
“There are so many young women like me - our dreams are shattered. And our hopes for a better future are fading fast."
Female workers in Kabul have taken to hiding their work ID cards and university degree certificates out of fear they will be punished, saying that Afghanistan no longer holds any future for them.
An anonymous Kabul resident told The Guardian: As a woman, I feel like I am the victim of this political war that men started.
“I felt like I can no longer laugh out loud, I can no longer listen to my favourite songs, I can no longer meet my friends in our favourite cafe, I can no longer wear my favourite yellow dress or pink lipstick.
“And I can no longer go to my job or finish the university degree that I worked for years to achieve.”
Women who joined the Afghan National army during a western-backed campaign have also expressed fears that they will be killed or raped by the Taliban for being soldiers.
Barbara Kelemen, lead intelligence analyst for Asia at geopolitical and security intelligence service , Dragonfly, said the deterioration of women’s rights and international security is inevitable.
Ms Keleman said: “In some areas of Afghanistan, such as Herat, we are already seeing women being prevented from entering universities and there are reports of some women being forced into marriages with the Taliban fighters.
“While the Taliban leadership maintains they will allow women to continue to study and work, this will be challenging to implement in practice given factionalism within the group. In all probability, we’re set to see a major deterioration of women’s rights across the country in the coming months. “The security environment in the country has worsened rapidly over the past few days and all businesses are facing major disruption. Other serious and unforeseen risks are likely to emerge under the new interim government.
“It is still unclear what type of actors the Taliban will become once they takes full control of the country, but it is pretty much certain that businesses and organisations that decide to continue to operate in Afghanistan will need to overhaul the foundations of their corporate security policy.”
More than 60 countries, including the US and the UK, have signed a joint statement saying that the Afghan people "deserve to live in safety, security and dignity", and that civil order must return.
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