A year of Taliban takeover: The missing women in Afghan workforce

It has been a year since Masuda Samar, 43, a senior official in the Afghanistan ministry, set foot in his office.

On August 15 last year, she rushed home from work early to be with her family after hearing that Afghanistan’s then president had fled the country, paving the way for the Taliban to seize the capital, Kabul.

When she returned days after the turmoil following the takeover, Samar, who had requested her name be changed to avoid persecution by the Taliban, was told she was not welcome in the office she had spent the past 17 years in. of her life.

Since returning to power, the Taliban have imposed many restrictions on women’s freedom.

‘I feel very insulted’

While the new regime has not outright fired female government workers like Samar, it has barred women from entering the workplace, paying them significantly less to stay at home, several working Afghan women told Al Jazeera.

“We’ve been back several times over the past year [to appeal for their jobs]. We decided to stay at the ministry gate all day to catch the new minister, to convince him to reverse this decision, but he [Taliban guards] will send us away,” Samar told Al Jazeera.

Due to financial pressure on her family, Samar regularly withdraws her meager salary. But she feels humiliated.

“Every time I go to the bank I wipe my tears first because I feel so humiliated when I take that amount that I don’t even have the right to work and earn. I feel like a beggar,” she said.

“But then last month, I got a call from the HR department, asking me to identify a male family member to replace me. The HR person said that the lack of female employees has increased the workload and they want to replace us with men,” she said.

“I studied to get this job. I worked hard to get this position despite tough challenges. Why should I leave my job to my husband and brother? she asked, frustration creeping into her voice.

Meanwhile, even in the private sector, many organizations have reduced the number of female employees, either due to financial crisis, Taliban coercion or as a precautionary measure to avoid angering the group.

I studied to get this job. I worked hard to get this position despite tough challenges. Why should I leave my job to my husband and brother?

through Female Afghan government employee

A study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) this year found a disproportionate decline in women’s employment in Afghanistan – a 16 percent drop in the months immediately following the Taliban takeover. In contrast, male employment fell by 6 percent.

“In a pessimistic scenario in which restrictions intensify and women do not feel they can safely show up at their workplaces, the job loss rate for women could reach 28 percent,” the report warned.

Before the Taliban took over, women made up 22 percent of the Afghan workforce. While this figure is still disappointing, it reflects years of social progress in deeply patriarchal and conservative societies like Afghanistan.

“Female labor force participation in Afghanistan has increased dramatically over the past decades, in some cases even better than our regional neighbors,” Saeedah Najafizada, an Afghanistan economist, told Al Jazeera.

‘low power’

Working women in Afghanistan are also at risk of unemployment shocks due to the ongoing economic crisis, Taliban restrictions on women’s movement, and prevailing patriarchy.

“Women in Afghanistan have less rights to make their own decisions. Self-made decisions are also, in many cases, heavily influenced by social norms that somehow lead them to accept undesirable outcomes,” Najafizada said.

She said the result is disastrous for the economy as it leaves more people with little or nothing to meet their basic needs and thus falls below the poverty line.

“Women’s absence from the workplace in Afghanistan does not only affect their homes [also] It makes the whole economy inefficient,” she added.

While Western sanctions against the Taliban have taken a heavy toll on Afghanistan’s economy, additional restrictions on women have hit women-oriented businesses the hardest.

A recent World Bank survey noted that 42 percent of women-owned businesses in Afghanistan have temporarily closed compared to 26 percent of men-owned firms.

In addition, about 83 percent of business women indicated that they expect a loss of revenue in the next six months, forcing them to face mechanisms such as reducing the size of their workforce, which often includes women.

“A quarter of women in women-owned businesses indicated that insecurity and restrictions on women’s professional and economic activities were among their top three concerns,” the report said.

Absence of women employees is felt by their male colleagues as well.

“The women in our department were the most professional and provided technical services to our female clients,” said Ghafoor, a supervisor at an agency in Kabul, who did not want to give his full name or occupation for fear of retaliation from the Taliban.

“I’ve never had a complaint about him, and he’s provided vital services that we couldn’t fill in his absence.”

Ghafoor said that after the Taliban took over last year, not a single woman in his department was allowed to return to work, as workloads on male employees increased and production declined.

“There are times when we work for 12-14 hours to complete tasks but still cannot reach our goal. It has affected our overall productivity,” he said.

However, women in government jobs like Samar are resisting efforts to transfer them. They have come together with their colleagues and are trying to negotiate to go back to their office.

“We are trying to campaign with the current leadership, but the HR person told me that if I don’t recommend a male relative soon, they will hire someone else and I will be automatically fired,” Samar said.

She said she felt humiliated at the prospect of offering an unqualified and inexperienced male relative the role she had trained for years.

Samar added that it was worse for women who did not have an immediate male guardian.

“One of my colleagues is a widow and her sons are in Iran. Who should she introduce? [to take her job]?”

Samar’s monthly salary supplemented her husband’s income, helping with their family expenses and their daughter’s education.

“I have not paid her school tuition for the past two months. I can’t even take her notebook and notebook,” she said.

She feared that her sixth grade daughter would not be able to study next year because the Taliban had banned high school education for girls.

“My daughter has no future in the country where I built my life and career. I feel like we are buried in a dark hole. I am breathing but I am not alive.”

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