August 15, 2022 9:32 am
Exactly one year ago Masuda Samar, 43, an official in an Afghan ministry, entered his office for the last time. On August 15, 2021, when she learned that the then Afghan president had fled the country, paving the way for the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul, she was out early and she rushed home to be with her family.
After a few days she returned to the office, where she had spent the last 17 years of her life: Samar – who asked to use a fancy name to avoid being persecuted by the Taliban – was told that she was no longer welcome.
Since returning to power, the Taliban have imposed many restrictions on women’s freedoms. The new regime has not directly fired state employees like Samar, but has restricted women’s access to workplaces, or paid them a greatly reduced salary to induce them to stay at home, many Afghan workers told Al Jazeera.
“We have been coming back frequently over the past year to take back our work. We waited at the gate of the ministry for days in the hope of speaking with the new minister to convince him to change his decision, but the Taliban guards sent us away, ”Samar told Al Jazeera.
I worked hard to move up the ranks and get this job, why should I give it to my husband or brother?
Samar continued to regularly withdraw his meager salary to cope with the financial pressures weighing on his family. But she feels humiliated. “Every time I go to the bank, I wipe my tears. I feel deeply insulted to take that sum. I no longer even have the right to work and earn, I feel like a beggar ”.
“Then, last month, I got a call from HR asking me to introduce him to a male family member who will take my place. The personnel manager said that the workload had increased due to the lack of workers and therefore they want to hire men to replace us, ”Samar said.
“I studied for this role. I worked hard to move up the ranks and reach this position despite the difficulties. Why should I give my job to my husband or my brother? ”Continues Samar in a frustrated voice.
Even in the private sector, many organizations have reduced the number of female workers for financial reasons, due to coercion by the Taliban, or as a precaution to avoid provoking the Islamic group. A 2022 study by the International Labor Organization (OIL) documented an anomalous decline in female employment in Afghanistan, equal to 16 percent, in the months immediately following the takeover of the Taliban. Male employment, on the other hand, fell by 6 percent. “If restrictions intensify and women feel increasingly insecure about showing up in the workplace, the loss of female labor could reach 28 percent,” warns the ILO report.
Before the Taliban took power, women made up 22 percent of the Afghan workforce. Even if it was a minimal figure, it still reflected years of social progress in a deeply patriarchal and conservative society like Afghanistan’s. “Female participation in the labor force in Afghanistan has increased dramatically in recent decades, in some cases it was even greater than our neighbors in the region,” said Afghan economist Saeda Najafizada.
The absence of women in the workplace makes the entire economy of Afghanistan dysfunctional
Female workers in Afghanistan also risk being unemployed due to the country’s economic crisis, Taliban restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, and the dominant patriarchy in society. “Women have less decision-making power in Afghanistan. And the few decisions they can make, in many cases, are strongly influenced by social norms that push them to accept even unwanted situations, ”said Najafizada.
A suffering economy
The effect of all this is devastating for the economy: more and more people have few or no resources to satisfy their basic needs. Hence the number of citizens living below the poverty line is constantly increasing. “The absence of women in the workplace in Afghanistan not only affects their family unit, but makes an entire economy dysfunctional,” says Najafizada.
The Afghan economy has suffered severely from Western sanctions against the Taliban, but companies with the highest female participation were among the hardest hit, due to the additional restrictions imposed on women. A recent World Bank survey found that 42 percent of female-owned businesses in Afghanistan have closed temporarily, compared with 26 percent of male-owned businesses.
In addition, some 83 percent of businesswomen said they expect a loss in revenue over the next six months that will force them to downsize their largely female workforce. “A quarter of female-run businesses indicated that insecurity and restrictions on women’s economic and commercial activities are their greatest concerns,” the report read.
The absence of women in the workforce is also felt by male colleagues. “The workers in our department were very professional and provided technical services to our clients,” said Ghafoor, supervisor of an agency in Kabul, who refused to reveal her name or profession for fear of reprisals from the Taliban. . “No one has ever complained about them. They provided basic services that we are unable to compensate without them now ”.
Ghafoor says none of the women in her department were allowed to return to work after the Taliban took over in 2021. As a result, the workload for male staff has increased and the company’s production has shrunk. “Sometimes we work between twelve and 14 hours to get the job done, but we still fail to achieve our goals. This affected overall productivity, ”Ghafoor admitted.
However, women like Samar, who had state employment, are resisting replacement attempts. The workers have mobilized and are trying to negotiate to get their offices back. “We are putting pressure on the current executives. Although the HR employee told me that if I don’t name a male relative asap, they will hire someone else and I will automatically be fired, ”Samar said.
The woman feels humiliated at the idea of offering the role she has been preparing for years to an unskilled and inexperienced male relative. Samar says the situation is even worse for women who don’t have a male guardian next door. “A colleague of mine is a widow and her children are in Iran. Who should you recommend to replace it at work? ”.
In addition, Samar’s monthly salary supplemented her husband’s income and helped pay for her daughter’s family expenses and education. “I haven’t paid her tuition in the past two months. I can’t even afford to buy her books and notebooks, ”Samar admits. Today she fears that her daughter, who was in sixth grade, will not be able to study next year due to the ban imposed by the Taliban which prohibits girls from pursuing higher education.
“In the country where I built my life and my career my daughter has no future. I feel like we have been buried in a black hole. I breathe but I’m not alive ”.
(Translation by Federico Ferrone)