Taliban ban women civil servants from working

Only female employees in three ministries have been able to return to work

3 min
Men and women work side by side at the Ministry of Public Health, despite the arrival of the Taliban

Special envoy to KabulAt the headquarters of the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul a woman can now walk through the door. Taliban militiamen at the door frisk the men, but there is no one to do the same for the women. There used to be a female employee, but since the radicals arrived in the Afghan capital, that job has been eliminated. The most surprising thing is that the Ministry of Health still has a lot of female civil servants working there. You meet them everywhere, they are bare-faced - with a simple veil on their heads - and they share offices with men. They are, however, an exception.

The Taliban have decreed that female civil servants must stay at home for the time being, without working, until they can guarantee their safety in the place of employment. They gave the same reason when they came to power in 1996 and, for the five years of their regime, women never set foot in an office again. Now, however, they have given that prerogative to women officials in only three ministries: health, education and higher education. There is a reason for this.

Mariam Hussaini explains that her boss called her and asked her to come back to the office as soon as possible because they were having trouble with the paperwork. She is in charge of all the administrative work for the purchase and distribution of medicines and supplies to the country's hospitals and clinics. Her work is therefore essential for the functioning of the public health system.

"The first day I came here I was afraid," she confesses. Not only because she is a woman, but also because she belongs to the Hazara ethnic group, a minority that was massacred by the Taliban in the past and is very easy to identify: they have slanted eyes. But even so, she did not give up and went to the ministry: "They demanded that I show them my civil servant's card at the entrance. The rest of the days they let me pass without even asking for that".

Dual administration

And there Mariam is, in a tiny office, busy behind a giant computer screen. She says her job hasn't changed much from the previous government. The only difference is that now she has two bosses: the one she had before and another Taliban, and she has to report to both of them. Another thing that has changed, he says, is that in the header of all official documents the logo of the previous executive has been replaced by that of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what the Taliban call their new regime. For the rest, everything else remains the same. But she does not know how much longer she will be able to continue working, or whether she will be fired overnight. This fear is shared by many other female civil servants.  

The new Taliban deputy health minister, Dr. Abdul Bari Omar.

What is also shocking is that there are now like two parallel administrations. On the one hand, the officials of the previous government, and on the other, the Taliban, who are very easy to distinguish because they walk around the ministry with their big turbans and some of them are armed. They appear to have a very cordial relationship with each other, but some officials, when they are alone, quietly confess that it is a disaster: there is no one to make decisions and there is no money. The World Bank used to finance all the clinics in the country and almost all the provincial hospitals. Now all those funds have been frozen.

Even the former head of the health ministry, Dr Wahid Majrooh, continues to work in the ministry, although he has been relegated to a lower-ranking office. The minister's office is now occupied by the Taliban. "We don't understand why the World Bank has frozen the funds if the patients and the Afghan population remain the same. This is a human rights issue", complains the new Taliban deputy health minister, Dr Abdul Bari Omar, a big, sleepy-eyed man who gives no concrete answers to any questions asked. Nor does he clarify where the money to fund public health care will come from, or whether women's jobs in the ministry are guaranteed.