Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

Kabul, Afghanistan For Zaigul, a 32-year-old housewife from Nangarhar province who lives in the Nasaji Camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) near the capital, Kabul, life was already difficult before the Taliban take power on August 15 last year.

She worked as a maid while her husband Nasir worked at construction sites to bring food to the table for their seven children, but no more. Since the Taliban’s return to power, the country has plunged into an unprecedented economic crisis, with banks running out of cash and government officials suffering from months of unpaid salaries.

The billions of dollars freezing of Afghan assets by the US and suspension of funds by international financial institutions has caused an almost collapse of the fragile economic system that has been violated by decades of war and occupation.

Zaigul, like millions of other Afghans, has no job, as most economic activity has stalled following the collapse of President Ashraf Ghani’s Western-backed government and the chaotic withdrawal of US forces in August.

“The most urgent issue is the financial problems,” says Zaigul, as she sat on the floor of her one-room house, her children huddled around her.

“You can live without freedom, but you can not live if you have nothing to eat,” she told Al Jazeera.

The United Nations said on Tuesday that some 22 million people – more than half of Afghanistan’s population – were facing acute hunger. It almost searched $ 5 billion in aid for the country to avoid a humanitarian “catastrophe”.

Afghan woman named Zaigul is sitting on the floor of her house with her children.Zaigul condemns the Taliban’s growing restrictions on women, but says the biggest challenge in today’s Afghanistan is the economic crisis [Mohsin Khan Momand/Al Jazeera]

Economy in freefall

Like many families in Afghanistan, Zaigul and Nasir’s household incomes have declined in recent months.

With most construction projects coming to a standstill after the Taliban takeover, and many families unable to afford help at home, the couple is unemployed.

“None of us can get more work. We need the most basic things – food, warm clothes and a heater to keep the house warm, ”says Zaigul as she wraps a thin black shawl around her shoulders.

Two of her teenage daughters crouched next to her while the youngest, a toddler named Sana, sat in the back with old rags playing. Despite the cold, her feet were bare, and her clothes covered her small limbs sparsely.

Zaigul’s one-room house was empty, except for a few worn mattresses spread over a cold stone floor. During the day, the family used the mattresses to sit on, before turning them into beds for the night.

In the corner, an emptying bag put flour next to a rusty stove with which she made bread in the evening.

You can live without freedom, but you can not live if you have nothing to eat.

Zaigul, 32, Nasaji-kamp, ​​Afghanistan

Zaigul recounted life before the takeover, saying that despite his arm, her family got by with a meager income and donations from international NGOs that helped them through the winter season.

“But now, even that [the aid] stopped, ”she told Al Jazeera.

“My children go out to collect rubbish that we try to sell, or paper to burn to keep us warm. “Sometimes I think of going to the streets to beg,” she told Al Jazeera as she lowered her head into her palms and formed tears in the corners of her eyes.

Western sanctions dealt a heavy blow to the aid-dependent country, forcing international NGOs to cease operations in the country.

The UN and other aid agencies have since tried to navigate the sanctions to provide much needed help to the country, as public hospitals have not been able to afford essential medical supplies or to pay staff salaries.

Eloom Bibi with her children sitting on a mattress.Eloom Bibi, a mother of six, used to depend on help and charity to get by after her husband died four years ago [Mohsin Khan Momand/Al Jazeera]

Donation-dependent population

Like Zaigul, Eloom Bibi, a widowed mother of six from the village of Shemol on the outskirts of Jalalabad, was also heavily dependent on donations after her husband – who worked in the police – died four years ago.

“Charity from people helped me a lot. But now, there is nothing [coming in] and I understand why. “People are unemployed,” said the 35-year-old.

“There are thousands of widows in this country who used to work. Now that the Taliban have taken over the country, all women are obliged to stay at home.

“What can a woman do to support her family?” she asked as her youngest, three-year-old Baba-ji climbed onto her lap.

Bibi struggled to pay her rent, buy food for the children “who are too young to work”, or afford their school fees.

“Things used to be better,” she complained as she hugged her three girls. “My children went to school – girls and boys. “We received donations earlier, and women were free,” she said.

According to independent Afghan analyst Ahmed-Waleed Kakar, “the main challenges for women are those reflected across the country as a whole – the financial and economic,” he told Al Jazeera.

For Afghan women, economic challenges engulfing the country have been exacerbated by further restrictions on their freedoms, employment, education and even movement.

Kakar said most Afghans live in rural areas where people depend on agriculture rather than formal work to make a living. But now, “they are struggling to get by and there is a massive increase in food insecurity,” he said.

With the economic crisis and severe drought affecting Afghanistan’s agricultural, economic, financial and banking sectors, it has also affected the government’s ability to pay the salaries of civil servants.

“Women who have been in the public sector, along with the men, receive salaries irregularly, if at all,” Kakar said.

Masuda Sultan, an Afghan women’s rights activist, agreed.

“Teachers have made up the bulk of women’s work in Afghanistan,” Sultan said, adding that they had not been paid their salaries since May or June, “except for a few small payments made by the Taliban.”

“While it is good that the international community has agreed to pay them, the money has not yet been mobilized and that has left them in a very bad place,” she told Al Jazeera.

Sultan, who has worked for women’s rights in Afghanistan for more than two decades, said many businesswomen were also unable to access their funds at banks.

“The biggest challenge [for women] is an economic one, with the assets and aid being frozen, ”she explained.

Eloom Bibi, an Afghan woman, poses for the camera.Like most Afghans, Eloom Bibi lives in a rural area where people are struggling with increasing food insecurity across the country. [Mohsin Zaman/Al Jazeera]

Increasing restrictions on women

Despite coming from a family that was financially stable before the takeover, things also got worse for Anzorat Wali, a 19-year-old member of the Afghan national women’s taekwondo team.

While Wali’s brother, a civil servant, is still working for the foreign ministry, he has not been paid in months.

Meanwhile, her mother – who previously supported the family – lost her job at the Ministry of Education after the Taliban called on women in the public sector to stay at home.

For the teenager, life among the Taliban meant no school, not even what she loved most – taekwondo.

The teenager took a photo of one of her recent competitions and tells of the days when she could practice martial arts with her sister.

In the photo, the young athlete’s eyes beamed with pride as she stood in her white buck and black belt to boast a heavyweight medal and certificate for third place.

Although she was frustrated by the ban on women’s sports, Wali felt more hurt by the restrictions on women’s education and her family’s financial struggles.

“For me, the biggest challenge is that I can not work or study,” said Wali, who remained at home despite her last year of schooling after the Taliban closed her school.

Anzorat Wali (19) poses with her medal and certificate.Anzorat Wali misses practicing taekwondo with her sister since Taliban takeover [Courtesy of Anzorat Wali/Al Jazeera]

Increasing confusion

Although the Taliban did not officially ban girls ‘training, the group’s fighters closed girls’ secondary schools and barred women from public universities in many of the country’s 30 provinces.

More recently, however, secondary education has returned to about 15 provinces, according to Obaidullah Baheer, a lecturer in transitional justice at the American University in Afghanistan.

“For the rest [of the provinces]”We heard different things,” he said, explaining that the Taliban had delayed the reopening of many girls’ schools.

“The Taliban – whether by accident or design – have taken a very evasive and confusing approach to their policies and position on women in society,” Baheer said, explaining that even the group’s leadership is divided on the issue.

It is very difficult to survive, especially if you are a woman in Afghanistan.

Anzorat Wali, 19, Afghan National Women Taekwondo Team Member

Baheer said although the Taliban clearly banned women from holding positions of leadership, they did not announce other sectors where women are officially banned.

“The result is that many of their fighters are confused about what should be done or not done,” he added, explaining that the regulations banning women’s travel alone over long distances have forced taxi drivers to refuse to let women work to drive for fear of violating the rules.

“In some provinces, women are discouraged by road fighters from going to work. [and girls to schools] but in others some women are still in government posts.

“Each province makes its own decision,” he said, emphasizing the depth of the confusion and arbitrary implementation.

But for Wali, the details do not matter.

“We [women] used to go to school or work. Now, we are just not allowed, ”said the teenage athlete.

“What matters now is that my family is facing a crisis and that it is very difficult to survive, especially if you are a woman,” she added.

Anzorat Wali poses for the camera.The Taliban have taken an evasive approach to their policies on women in society, which has left many, like Anzorat Wali, confused about what is allowed. [Mohsin Khan Momand/Al Jazeera]

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