On World Food Day 2023, we call attention to the extreme hardship faced by women workers in Afghanistan, especially women working in the food system. Afghanistan already faces growing hunger and food insecurity. The Taliban’s suppression of the right of women to work and the right to education is deepening food insecurity and pushing the country into an even greater crisis.
Afghan women have long played a significant role in rebuilding their country, enhancing their communities, and contributing to brighter futures for their families. However, since the Taliban assumed power in August 2021, Afghan women have faced increasing exclusion from public life and society.
Initially, authorities closed girls’ secondary schools, denied women access to universities, and prevented many women Afghan aid workers from carrying out their duties. Additionally, numerous public spaces such as bathhouses, gyms, and parks were declared off-limits for women.
Since August 2022, nine out of 10 Afghan families cannot afford enough food – one of the highest rates globally. Nearly 20 million Afghans are uncertain about their next meal, with six million of them teetering on the brink of famine. The levels of moderate acute malnutrition in the country have reached their highest recorded levels.
In a nation where 20 million people are grappling with acute hunger, and six million are on the brink of famine, the ongoing repercussions of these restrictions on women in both society and the economy will have a profoundly impact.
In this report and the accompanying videos, we hear from courageous Afghan women who confront daily restrictions, persevere in the face of injustice and hunger, and serve as a reminder that – despite the adversity – hope remains a powerful force.
We have conducted face-to-face video interviews with 19 women in various provinces of Afghanistan who either work or have worked in the food sector but are unable to continue due to Taliban restrictions. Additionally, we have interviewed women in food-related fields who were pursuing their studies but had to discontinue them due to bans imposed by the Taliban. Furthermore, we have engaged in conversations with over 50 other women who prefer not to appear on video or disclose their names.
25% Drop in Women’s Employment, Harsh Work Restrictions Hit Afghan Women Hard
The Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan led to a 25% drop in women’s employment, worsened by restrictions on women’s access to work and education.
Our conversations with over 70 current or former women workers in the food sector reveal that over a quarter are unable to continue working due to the restrictions imposed on women’s work by the Taliban.
“I have worked at a hotel, but our work has stopped for two years now,” said Arzo Azizyar. “There were 15 of us: five working in the interior, five in the kitchen, and five as waiters.”
Arzo Azizyar was joined by 14 other women working in a hotel. It has been two years now since all of them have been unemployed and unable to continue working.
If the Taliban grants permission, I will resume working,” added Arzo.
Arezo Jamal, another Afghan woman who worked as a cook in a hotel, is currently unable to continue her employment. She stated, “I have been unemployed for a year and a half, and I am not currently working. If we are allowed to work again, I will start working again.”
Education Crisis for Afghan Young Women: Barriers and Aspirations
Since September 2021, Afghan young women aged 12 and above have faced an indefinite delay in returning to school, resulting in 1.1 million of them being denied access to formal education. At present, a staggering 80% of school-aged Afghan young women, totaling 2.5 million individuals, are not attending school. Even more shocking is that close to 30% of young women in Afghanistan have never even set foot in primary education institutions.
Fast forward to December 2022, and the situation took another grim turn as university education for women was abruptly halted until further notice. This decision affected more than 100,000 female students attending both government and private higher education institutions.
It is important to note that between 2001 and 2018, the number of women in higher education had soared almost 20-fold. Before this recent suspension, one out of every three young women was actively enrolled in universities.
In Afghanistan, the faculties related to agriculture and food have garnered the attention of Afghan female students. It is noteworthy that Afghan female students have shown a keen interest in these faculties across the board.
In remote areas, 70% of women work in agriculture or learn to work in agriculture from their elders. This may be one of the reasons why women are more interested in a higher education in agriculture and food sciences.
All the members of Atifa’s family were actively involved in the field of agriculture, and they wholeheartedly encouraged her to pursue her studies in the same field.
“All the members of our family are engaged in agriculture. Unfortunately, after completing just one semester at the Faculty of Agriculture, the Taliban imposed a ban on women’s education”, Atifa said.
She added, “If the Taliban allows women to pursue education, I am determined to resume my university studies again.”
Sharifa, a student enrolled in the Faculty of Agriculture, found herself facing adversity when the Taliban assumed control.
In her own words, she recounted the challenges that befell her and her fellow female students, stating, “I was in the Faculty of Agriculture. After the Taliban regained power, restrictions were imposed on women’s education. The Taliban closed our university. It’s been two years since our university was closed.”
“If the university doors open for us again, I will start,” Sharifa declared.
Challenges Faced by Afghan Women in the Workplace Under Taliban Rule
Since the Taliban assumed control, there has been a drastic and concerning shift in the professional landscape for women in Afghanistan. There has been a stark reduction in the range of opportunities available to women in the workforce. This dire situation has left countless women grappling with the consequences.
One of the most distressing consequences of the Taliban’s resurgence is the loss of employment for many women. Numerous individuals who were previously employed in various sectors have been abruptly stripped of their jobs, leaving them without a source of income or a means to support their families. This loss of livelihoods has had profound and far-reaching consequences, not only affecting women individually but also impacting their communities and the nation’s economy as a whole.
For those fortunate enough to still retain their jobs, the conditions have become exceedingly restrictive. Women who were once able to engage in professions in public now find themselves relegated to the confines of their homes. The Taliban’s misinterpretation and political misuse of Sharia law has led to a segregated workplace environment, where women are effectively isolated from the public sphere. This arrangement has forced them to work remotely, behind closed doors, away from their colleagues and clients, drastically limiting their ability to interact and contribute effectively in their respective fields.
Rahila, a woman employed in a hotel, declared that: “Women should pursue employment outside the home. Staying indoors can be quite challenging. When a woman who has been actively engaged in society suddenly encounters restrictions, she often finds it difficult to adapt. I have always envisioned going out in the morning and working until evening. Similarly, other women should also explore opportunities to earn their income through work.”
One of the hotel employees, Hamida Tabasom, spoke about the days when the arrival of the Taliban instilled fear among their colleagues.
“When the Taliban came to power, fear spread everywhere. The female employees at our hotel stopped working due to fear. Our employees were afraid that if the Taliban arrived, they would face beatings.”
“Before the Taliban government, our business was thriving, and we had many customers,” Hamida Tabasom added.
Based on in-depth interviews with 70 women workers, we can categorize the challenges they face as follows:
- 4 out of 5 respondents reported a significant drop in their household income since August 2021. They attributed this decline to economic challenges, job losses, and reduced business opportunities within their community.
Child Marriage as a Disturbing Outcome:
- Among the 70 women interviewed, 10% revealed that severe food insecurity had forced them to arrange marriages for girls under 18 within their families. This highlights the dire consequences of this crisis on the lives of young girls.
- Disturbingly, 50% of respondents identified child marriage as a critical safety concern for girls in their community, emphasizing the urgent need for interventions to protect vulnerable children.
Reduced Food Consumption and Hunger:
- An alarming 85% of women admitted to missing meals in the past two weeks, expressing their anguish over not being able to provide adequate food for themselves and their families.
- In 97% of households, women and other family members mentioned reducing their food intake, with some even skipping meals to stretch their limited resources.
Limited Support and Consultation:
- Only a third of women claimed to have received any assistance in the last year, highlighting the gap in support for those grappling with financial hardships.
- Less than 13% of those who received aid were consulted regarding their specific needs before assistance was provided, revealing a lack of personalized support for affected individuals.
Inadequate Humanitarian Assistance:
- Just 20% of surveyed women felt that the humanitarian aid they received met their needs, underscoring the need for more targeted and responsive aid programs.
- Furthermore, the women interviewed cited issues with delivery methods, such as aid being distributed in mosques (often inaccessible to women) and assistance being provided by male workers (which prevents access). This indicates the necessity for more inclusive and culturally sensitive aid distribution practices.
This report, titled “Voices of Afghan Women in the Food System: Struggles, Sacrifices, and Strength,” sheds light on the challenges Afghan women have faced since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021.
- Exclusion from Public Life: Afghan women have faced increasing exclusion from public life and society, including the closure of girls’ secondary schools and universities, restrictions on female aid workers, and limitations on public spaces for women.
- Food Insecurity: Since August 2022, 90% of Afghan families cannot afford enough food, with nearly 20 million Afghans uncertain about their next meal and six million teetering on the brink of famine. Moderate acute malnutrition has reached its highest recorded levels.
- Impact on Women in the Food Sector: Many women who worked in the food sector have been unable to continue their employment due to Taliban restrictions, leading to a 25% drop in female employment in this sector.
- Education Crisis: Afghan young women aged 12 and above have faced barriers to education, with 1.1 million denied access to formal education. The suspension of university education for women affected over 100,000 female students.
- Interest in Agriculture: Afghan female students showed a keen interest in faculties related to agriculture and food. However, the Taliban’s restrictions disrupted their studies.
- Workplace Challenges: The Taliban’s rule has drastically reduced opportunities for women in the workforce. Those who still have jobs often face restrictive conditions, working remotely and in isolation from colleagues and clients.
- Impact on Livelihoods: The loss of employment has had profound consequences, affecting not only women individually but also their communities and the nation’s economy.
These key points provide an overview of the report’s findings regarding the struggles faced by Afghan women in the food system under Taliban rule.
The Afghan Times – The Afghan Times organization founded by Afghan women journalists in exile. At The Afghan Times, we believe in empowering the new generation of Afghan citizens by providing them with information and resources to make informed decisions. Our mission is to empower women journalists to tell these important stories through investigative reporting.