The Taliban’s Ongoing Restrictions: Women Warn of a Growing Mental Health Crisis in Afghanistan

By: Amin Kawa

Women and girls are expressing their profound and invisible crisis under Taliban rule, a catastrophe they feel has gone unnoticed and unheard. The Taliban’s pervasive restrictions have worsened women’s mental health issues and persistent distress. Some women are even contemplating suicide. They assert that ongoing uncertainty, continued deprivation, and an unclear political future have made life incredibly challenging. Many women feel like they are slowly approaching death and rely on medication to find sleep. Women’s rights activists also caution that these current conditions will lead to devastating consequences for women. It’s worth noting that in the wake of the extensive Taliban-imposed restrictions, certain human rights organizations have voiced concerns about the dire state of women’s mental health in Afghanistan.

The persistence and broadening of the Taliban restrictions on women have led numerous young girls to confront severe mental challenges. According to these girls, the uncertainty surrounding their future has made their circumstances daunting. They view the ongoing situation as a gradual erosion of hope and values. Women and girls, denied education and job opportunities, stress that the Taliban’s rule has drained them to the brink of exhaustion, and it remains uncertain how long this group will continue to dictate their fate.

Ms. Mowaffaq (pseudonym) is one of the residents of Herat province. She, who is worn down by unemployment, an uncertain future, and the relentless restrictions imposed by the Taliban, says she is facing serious mental health problems. Ms. Mowaffaq explicitly states, “Suicide is better than enduring suffering every day. How much we have studied, worked hard, endured sleepless nights, and hunger, and in the end, under the Taliban’s rule, we are deprived of an ordinary life.”

This young woman, who used to make a living through her small shop, now carries the burden of her family’s hurtful remarks in addition to the suffering caused by the Taliban’s restrictions and joblessness. She says, “Family members constantly say, ‘You studied, you spent, what happened?’ The family’s words on one side and the situation outside on the other. How much patience can a woman have? Life has truly become difficult for me. I had a shop; a Taliban member came and said whatever came to his mouth to me. In the end, he said that women shouldn’t have shops because they corrupt society.”

Nosheen Azari is another woman who has experienced bitter and endless grief due to the Taliban’s relentless restrictions, which have taken a severe toll on her mental well-being. Azari states, “I suffer greatly from a terrible emotional and psychological state. I have nightmares at night, and my days are gloomy. I resort to sleeping pills at night. I’ve developed stress and obsessions.” She emphasizes that most nights, she experiences the harsh daily reality in the most terrifying way possible in her dreams, causing her distress.

On the other hand, the Taliban’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has acted as a suppressive authority and issued prohibitive orders against women for over two years. To the extent that in their everyday conversations, girls and women refer to this institution as the “Order to the Coffin.” Ms. Azari, who has also endured harsh questioning by this group, says, “Unfortunately, today, the Moral Police of the Taliban stopped me and asked why I’m not wearing a veil. My heart is still pounding; I suffer greatly from this situation.”

Deprivation and hopelessness are the shared fate of women in Afghanistan. Some women in Balkh province say they have lost their motivation and hope for the future. These women had expected that on the second anniversary of their rule, the Taliban would open the doors of universities and institutions to women, but even this hope has turned into despair.

Ayda, a resident of Mazar-e-Sharif, says she is suffering from depression. She adds that she has chosen isolation and does not talk to her friends because she doesn’t feel comfortable and doesn’t want to see anyone. According to Ayda, the persistence of poverty and unemployment has forced many young girls in this province into forced and unwanted marriages.

Despite their repeated promises of change, acceptance of women’s rights, and respect for human rights in Afghanistan, the Taliban, upon returning to power, have collectively removed women from public spaces and deprived them of the right to education and work. Some students who were in the middle of their academic studies now consider themselves confined to their homes and carry an indescribable burden of sorrow and grief, as they put it.

Girls banned from education say their families have imprisoned them at home out of fear of the Taliban, and there is no suitable work or educational environment for them. These students say that apart from grieving and enduring, they have no solution. They emphasize that they have no space and opportunity to realize their hopes, and for this reason, they feel ashamed of their aspirations. The sorrow and suffering of deprivation will ultimately consume their lives.

Meanwhile, some women’s rights activists say that the mental health crisis, which has led to an increase in suicide rates, has not received the attention of human rights organizations. According to them, the worsening hunger crisis has caused the gradual death of women to be forgotten. According to these activists, women have been poisoned mentally, and the injury to half of society will have a bitter and shocking outcome for Afghanistan in the end.

Marzia Ahmadi, a women’s rights activist, says that the widespread prevalence of suicide ideation and discussions of this phenomenon in the mass media indicate a deep and hidden tragedy within society, the devastating consequences of which will soon become apparent. According to her, we must talk about the “silent death” of women and not just view the issue of women solely from the perspective of the political rhetoric of international organizations but take more serious action for women.

Over the past two years, the Taliban have confined women to their homes and taken away their basic rights under the pretext of establishing an “Islamic system.” The sexual and extramarital relationship cases involving this group become more explicit and gruesome every day. Recently, a bodyguard of the Taliban governor for the Kohistanat district of Faryab province attempted to sexually assault a 13-year-old girl, and he was detained by the locals and handed over to the Taliban.

Furthermore, sources from Balkh province say that some time ago, an elderly Taliban member who was collecting tithe and alms for the group forced a young girl into a forced marriage and took her to a remote village. Sources say that this man is the same age as the girl’s father and already has another wife. According to sources, the girl is currently suffering from psychological problems.

The statistics continue to show that in less than two years, over 40 Taliban members have been arrested for sexual assault and extramarital relationships. Women, girls, and children are among the victims in these cases. Furthermore, Taliban militants have killed women and girls either after sexual assault or during the assault itself. Zarmina, a young girl in Ghor province, was murdered last year when a Taliban militant failed to sexually assault her and shot her instead.

Many families in Afghanistan have migrated to neighboring countries for the education and safety of their daughters. However, those who remain in Afghanistan are in poor mental and psychological conditions. Sources in some government hospitals confirm that the Taliban have verbally ordered the non-registration of suicide cases.

Nevertheless, some international human rights organizations have stated that the Taliban’s policies towards women constitute a clear example of crimes against humanity and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC). In a recent statement, Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “The extent of the repression against Afghan women and girls is shockingly disproportionate. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women and girls are denied access to secondary and higher education.”

It is worth noting that women and girls have consistently protested against what they are subjected to under the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan. However, the Taliban have continued to suppress, torture, and detain protesters. Last week, Tamana Zaryab Paryani, a women’s rights activist, along with several of her companions, went on a hunger strike in Cologne, Germany, for the formal recognition of “gender apartheid” by the Taliban. Currently, Mehra Fabi, a transgender Afghan living in Sweden, continues her hunger strike and calls on Sweden and the United Nations to officially recognize the Taliban’s gender apartheid against the LGBT community and women in Afghanistan.