The Taliban seized Kabul 2 years ago. Those who escaped still struggle – National

In the streets of Kabul, dozens of women chanted alongside Roqia Saee as she led the group with a megaphone on March 26, 2023. They chanted,  “Education is a red line,” while holding signs calling on the Taliban to once again allow girls to go to school.

After this protest, Saee was taken into custody by the Taliban for the second time and in the months since, she has fled to Pakistan with her two children to escape the Taliban, who killed her husband — a former Afghan air force pilot.

This is Afghanistan after two years of Taliban rule, where women’s rights have been systematically crushed. Girls are now banned from going to secondary school, with women prohibited from attending universities.

For these brave women, they protest under the threat of Taliban reprisal.

“Taliban fighters have threatened us, beaten us with sticks, with their guns,” Saee tells Global News through an interpreter.

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“In the past two years, women have been removed from society.”

Click to play video: 'Nearly 2 years into Taliban rule, Ottawa protest demands justice for Afghan women and girls'

Nearly 2 years into Taliban rule, Ottawa protest demands justice for Afghan women and girls

Since seizing power, the Taliban have deprived 2.5 million girls of an education, according to the United Nations.

Global News asked a Taliban spokesperson if girls will ever be allowed to return to school while they are in power. He refused to answer directly, saying domestic issues belong to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to ask for foreign aid and recognition as countries around the world, including Canada, refuse to acknowledge them as a legitimate government.

Canada passed a law earlier this year that modifies terrorism financing laws to allow aid groups to get an exemption and work in terrorist-controlled regions, like Afghanistan.

With the Taliban in place, operating in the country had previously technically violated the original language of those terrorist financing laws.

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The UN says 20 years of gender equality progress has been erased in Afghanistan over the past 24 months, ever since the international community evacuated and withdrew from Kabul as the country’s foreign-trained military gave way to the surge of Taliban fighters in a lightning advance that left global onlookers horrified and stunned.

In addition to bans on accessing education, women are now forbidden from holding many jobs in Afghanistan, including working for much needed aid organizations.

Last month, the Taliban shut down one of the final social and economic safe havens for women — beauty salons.

“This is all women who are losing one of the only spaces that was left that was available to them where they could go and speak with other women, get advice, get support,” said Heather Barr, associate director of Human Rights Watch.

Images of women on a beauty salon in the Afghan capital Kabul are seen painted over in a photo taken September 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Both on a personal level for women and nationally, the Taliban takeover has left the Afghan economy in shambles. United Nations figures show that in the past two years the number of people living in poverty in the country has doubled, soaring to 34 million people.

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Famine is an all too real threat for six million Afghans, with the World Food Programme stating 92 per cent of the population does not have enough to eat.

And hundreds of thousands more people are out of work since the Taliban took over. The International Labour Organization states that 900,000 people have lost their jobs since Kabul fell.

Women are bearing the brunt of this, being pushed out of their professions and many parts of society by Taliban edicts. It leaves people like former journalist Zainad Rezayee with few options.

“After a week, she lost her job in the government media. After a month, she lost her job as a private university [daycare worker],” an interpreter told Global News as she shared her story.

She used to be the breadwinner for her family, working both jobs.

And even for those still able to work, the broken economy means they are facing hard times.

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Ahmed Massoud owns a grocery store in Kabul, and his family of eight depend on the shop. But with many people struggling to afford food it means he can barely make enough to cover rent.

“A lot of stores aren’t doing so well. That one used to be a tailor’s shop… and it had to close because it wasn’t getting any business,” he explained, gesturing to a nearby shop.

Businesses also are not investing in Afghanistan since the takeover, further hindering the economy.

Click to play video: 'Taliban orders closure of Afghan beauty salons in latest restriction against women'

Taliban orders closure of Afghan beauty salons in latest restriction against women

Canada is among the many countries around the world who refuse to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government, meaning it is harder to deliver humanitarian aid to the region.

Even the Taliban admit the situation is dire. Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that if assistance doesn’t come from the international community, then the economy will continue to suffer.

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Click to play video: 'Young man forced to leave Afghanistan now powerful voice for the displaced'

Young man forced to leave Afghanistan now powerful voice for the displaced

For those who have escaped the country, they may be safe in a new home but for many their hearts are still in Afghanistan.

Hela Mujtaba is one of the 36,000 Afghan refugees who now call Canada home.

A former prosecutor for the Afghan government, Mujtaba was in her Kabul office when the Taliban stormed the capital on August 15, 2021.

Fighters immediately began a violent crackdown, focused on the military and people working for the now-former government like Mujtaba.

“I was hiding for two, or three months. After that, by help of some foreign organization, I evacuated to Abu Dhabi,” she told Global News in an interview at her Ottawa home.

Once in Abu Dhabi, it was another nine months before Mujtaba was able to come to Canada.

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While she is safe, she’s not settled. Mujtaba’s parents are still trapped in Afghanistan.

“They are not safe, their life is not safe so I cannot be happy here because physically [I] am here, but my spirit is always with them,” she said.

Mujtaba is trying to bring her parents to Canada, but says she continually runs into red tape, and often wonders if the process would be easier if they were in another conflict zone.

“When the Ukraine war began, us and European countries forgot Afghan people. They forgot the Afghan cases,” Mujtaba said.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, Canada has welcomed over 173,000 Ukrainians through emergency programs. Over 858,000 applications have been approved.

In the past two years, just over 36,000 Afghan refugees have come to Canada of the 40,000 Canada pledged to welcome at the outset of the Taliban takeover.

The Canadian government has previously cited difficulties obtaining proper documentation and the fact many people eligible to come to Canada had fled or gone into hiding as reasons for Afghan assistance targets not being reached yet.

Click to play video: 'Nearly 2 years into Taliban rule, Ottawa protest demands justice for Afghan women and girls'

Nearly 2 years into Taliban rule, Ottawa protest demands justice for Afghan women and girls

In April, the government said it planned to reach the 40,000 target by the end of the year after hitting the milestone of resettling 30,000 Afghan refugees.

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But Tim Laidler, an Afghanistan war veteran who advocates for Afghans who helped the Canadian Forces during the war, says he fears they are being forgotten amid the efforts to help Ukraine.

“There’s two different programs, two different standards completely. You can all sort of wonder why this is,” Laidler said.

With the challenges in getting out of Afghanistan, this leaves people like Mujtaba left with their loved ones half a world away as they try to establish themselves in a new country.

“When I talk with my mom we mostly discuss the good days that we had in Afghanistan together, still I say to my parents,” she said with tears in her eyes.

“One day we will start our life together.”

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