The Taliban’s Regressive Policies Have Spurred a Hidden Mental Health Crisis Among Afghan Women Commentary
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The Taliban’s Regressive Policies Have Spurred a Hidden Mental Health Crisis Among Afghan Women

The Taliban’s misguided belief that confining women to their homes protects them has led to an escalating mental health crisis and pervasive violence that are driving Afghan women to a despair from which far too many feel that suicide is the only means of escape.

It was in this context that I enrolled several months ago in a volunteer training program at Freedom to Learn, an online school dedicated to Afghan women and girls. The program, led by Dr. Jennifer Prince, the Suicide Prevention Program Manager of the US Army Reserve’s 416th Theater Engineer Command, has been instrumental in training Afghan women to support one another in grappling with mental health issues, with the ultimate goal of averting suicide attempts.

“The mental well-being of women and girls in Afghanistan remains severely compromised. When these vulnerable individuals lose hope, it is imperative that we guide them through the darkness and help them rediscover their connection to life. Because their lives are worth saving,” Dr. Prince told me in an interview.

It was through this program that I acquired the skills to provide counseling services to women like Fariba,* whose loss of work as a government official in the aftermath of the Taliban’s resurgence, paired with domestic violence, drove her to attempt suicide. The Taliban’s imposition of a work ban on women in Afghanistan not only cost her her job; it ultimately gave her brother unchecked power to subject her to daily oppression and abuse.

As Fariba’s circumstances worsened, her ability to financially contribute to her family diminished. “My brother beat me every day, saying that I was a burden. I wished for a job to not only provide income but also to escape the constant abuse. Unfortunately, despite my efforts, there were no job opportunities,” Fariba said in an interview.

Distressing though Fariba’s tales are, they are sadly far from unique. Women in Afghanistan are enduring a time of great hardship, having lost their rights, freedoms, and identity due to the oppressive rules enforced by the Taliban.

“During moments of anger, my brother denied me food, keeping me hungry for hours. He threatened the entire family not to provide me anything to eat. I was helpless, as my family depended on my brother’s income, and they adhered to his commands,” shared a sobbing Fariba.

The Taliban’s dismantling of human rights organizations in the country has left women without support or advocates to address the violence they face. Fariba’s plea for help are sadly poignant: “Every day, I wished for death. I had no understanding of why my brother harbored such resentment toward me.”

To those observing from afar, the plight of Afghan women might seem tied solely to unemployment. However, the impact extends far beyond, affecting every facet of their lives within the country. Fariba’s experience underscores how employment and financial independence once played a crucial role in supporting her family, a dynamic that drastically changed with the Taliban’s restrictions.

“After enduring severe beatings, my brother expelled me from our home. With nowhere to go and no place to spend the night, I found myself with 100 Afghani. I purchased rat poison, intending to end my misery,” revealed Fariba, tears streaming down her face.

Fortunately, her sister located her in time, rushing her to the hospital for emergency care, saving her life. Subsequently, when questioned about the suicide attempt, the doctor disregarded Fariba’s account of abuse and attributed her actions to job loss, illustrating the challenges of acknowledging gender-based violence.

Under the Taliban’s rule, countless women and girls face daily struggles akin to Fariba’s. The home, once a refuge, becomes unsafe when family members view these women as burdens with no hope for the future. Trapped in a system that stifles reporting, the Taliban’s censorship further conceals the true extent of events.

This is a call to action for the international community and those with influence to cease overlooking the crimes perpetrated against Afghan women. Urgent intervention is required to halt gender persecution and apartheid in Afghanistan.

The escalating mental health crisis among women and girls demands immediate attention, as the specter of suicide looms larger, presenting a chilling reality of what can only be described as the start of a genocide.

*The author is an Afghan legal scholar whose identity cannot be revealed due to security threats. 

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