Afghanistan: single women and widows are struggling to find their next meal under Taliban restrictions

Jamila*, a widow living in Herat, lost her husband in a suicide attack about eight years ago. She has an 18-year-old daughter who is blind and a 20-year-old son who lost both legs in a mine blast. Jamila used to be a housemaid and bake bread for people in their homes. With this income she was able to feed her daughter and son, according to research carried out by Ahmad*, a former lecturer at the University of Herat and shared with me.

Since the Taliban gained control of the country, Afghanistan has been on the brink of universal hardship. As many as 97% of people are now estimated to be living in poverty, up from 72% in 2018. The recent Taliban ban on women working in international and national organisations and women moving about public spaces has also affected women being able to find employment.

Because of the current situation Jamila has lost her clients and is now struggling to cope. She could not pay her rent and the landlord asked her to leave her home. She now lives in a small room that a kind family gave her in their yard. She has no source of income. Previously about 10% of educated women in Afghanistan worked in national or international organisations to support their children. If less educated, they had a range of formal and informal jobs including working as housemaids, baking bread, washing clothes, cleaning bathrooms and babysitting, and in rural communities rearing small livestock and growing wheat, maize and vegetables.

Jamila said that previously under the former government her family received a monthly salary from the state ministry of martyrs and disabled affairs, which pays families of military veterans or those killed in the fighting, and that gave them enough money for bread.

The new government (the Taliban) has now stopped this salary … they don’t believe our lost ones are martyrs. My son also had a job with the municipality office in a city parking lot, taking care of vehicles and collecting money from people parking their vehicles there. There were many handicapped people doing this kind of job. But now all of them, including my son, have lost their jobs.

The Taliban has appointed their own personnel in these parking areas. We have very few options left. A neighbour now drops my son near a bridge in the city where he begs people to help him with coins. He brings him back here in the evening. With the coins he brings, we can get only bread to survive until the next day.

Jamila is not an exception. She is one of thousands of women who have lost their jobs as a result of the new decrees. Many are acutely malnourished and don’t know where their next meal is coming from….