The hardline Islamist regime has banned girls from middle school and high school, barred women from most fields of employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also barred from travelling without a male relative and cannot go to parks or gyms.
The authorities have even shut madrassas that were teaching only women students.
After the Taliban seized power, universities were forced to implement new rules, including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances, while women were only permitted to be taught by professors of the same sex, or old men.
Last week, the Taliban prohibited women from attending universities all together.
Just days later, all foreign and domestic non-governmental groups were ordered to not employ women or risk having their operating licences revoked.
“They have taken everything from us”
The latest decisions have triggered unprecedented protests by women across several Afghan cities. Braving water cannons in biting cold conditions, women took to the streets raising slogans such as “education is our right” and “education for all or none”.
The women are risking everything, including their life, to fight for their rights. “What other choice do we have left? They [the Taliban] have taken everything from us,” said a woman protester in the city of Nangarhar.
Futures pulled apart
Marwa, who was just a few months away from becoming the first woman in her family to go to university, will now watch achingly as her brother goes without her. “Had they ordered women to be beheaded, even that would have been better than this ban,” she said, adding: “If we are to be so unlucky, I wish that we hadn’t been born at all. I’m sorry for my existence in the world.”
“We are being treated worse than animals. Animals can go anywhere on their own, but we girls don’t have the right even to step out of our homes,” said the 19-year-old, who recently passed an entrance exam to start a nursing degree at a medical university in Kabul.
She was thrilled to be joining her brother, Hamid, in attending the campus each day.
But now their futures have been pulled apart.
“I wanted my sister to achieve her goals along with me — to succeed and move ahead,” said Hamid, 20, a student of business administration at a higher education institute in Kabul. “Despite several problems, she had studied until the 12th grade, but what can we say now?”
Marwa’s mother, holding her newborn baby in her arms, said she felt history repeating itself. Two decades ago she was forced to quit her studies during the Taliban’s first regime between 1996 and 2001.
“I’m happy that my son is able to pursue his goals, but I’m also heartbroken that my daughter is unable to do the same,” said Zainab, 40. “If my daughter does not achieve her goals, she’ll have a miserable future like mine.”
The curtailing of women’s rights has drawn international condemnation. The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said he was deeply disturbed by reports of the NGO ban and said that “women must be enabled to play a critical role in all aspects of life, including humanitarian response”.
Meanwhile, US secretary of state Antony Blinken condemned the Taliban’s decision as “devastating for the Afghan people”, adding that “women are central to humanitarian operations around the world”.
(With inputs from agencies)