Since the Taliban took power, life has deteriorated fast. Most international aid was suspended in August 2021 and government reserves were frozen. This has led to a near collapse of the economy and a humanitarian crisis, with almost 20 million people at risk of life-threatening hunger. Human rights have gone into reverse. Restrictions have been imposed on the media and freedom of speech. The Taliban are hunting down anyone suspected of aiding western forces. Forced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture are not uncommon, and living in hiding and in fear is an everyday experience for many. The situation of women and girls, minority groups like the Hazara and LGBTQ+ is particularly difficult.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was abolished by the Taliban and replaced by the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, tasked with enforcing an extreme version of Islamic law. Girls are barred from secondary schools (although there are some secret schools and online education). Women are banned from government jobs, sport and travelling outside their city without a male relative, and must wear hijab. A small number of women bravely protested in Herat and Kabul on 15 August to demand their rights to work and education. They carried a placard saying ‘August 15 is a black day’ and chanted demands for ‘bread, work and freedom’ Taliban fighters dispersed the protest by firing into the air, some women were beaten and some had their mobile phones seized.
In light of all this, a cross-party group of MPs and campaigners from Afghanistan, including 15 female leaders there, have recently written to the two candidates for leadership of the Conservative Party asking them to overhaul the existing asylum scheme to give women and girls more access. Arguably any such overhaul should include all vulnerable groups. As things stand, individuals cannot apply for the scheme. They have to be referred by the UN to Britain after having fled from Afghanistan. Only 11 women’s rights activists have been resettled in the UK.