Migration of Afghan Women at the Time of Taliban Restrictions

Since the Taliban seized Afghanistan in August 2021, they have gradually forced more significant restrictions on Afghans, especially women, and girls in Afghanistan. They have banned women’s presence in public, access to education, mobility, healthcare, and work right. Those who were heading households are progressively and seriously facing problems accessing social support or sustaining themselves.

All these restrictions and unwanted reality caused increasing fear of persecution under the rule of the Taliban, food insecurity, and increasing poverty levels in the country, affecting migration dynamics, particularly regarding women’s mobility. It is necessary to take appropriate and focused action on the risks women and female-headed households face. These focused actions must be in Afghanistan, in transit, and upon reaching a host country.

By gaining power, the Taliban started a campaign of restrictions against Afghan women. They targeted women’s rights in the first step and then quickly brought restrictions on access to healthcare, livelihoods, and education. The Taliban regime controlled women’s permission in public when accompanied by a male family member. A few months later, the regime banned Afghan girls indefinitely, fired female employees in Kabul’s city government, and stopped women from lodging domestic or international flights accompanied by a male family member. Also, the Taliban asked all adult Afghan women to wear the hijab.

These restrictions were not the end of the scene. By January 2023, the Taliban regime banned women from Afghan Assembly meetings, studying journalism, agriculture, veterinary medicine, engineering, and economics. They also controlled access to gyms and public parks and ultimately barred women from pursuing degrees at university degrees. Finally, the Taliban forbade Afghan women from working in international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Long-term Consequences of the Restrictions

These restrictions absolutely will have long-term repercussions. Barred girls from school would not qualify for higher education, and employed women are now without a source of income. Mostly, these restricted women are the only income earners in their families. Taking this danger into consideration, in the country, 97% of the population is already at risk of poverty and food insecurity among Afghan women.

An Afghan NGO employee in Herat, interviewed by Mixed Migration Centre (MMC), said that women lack the documentation to open bank accounts, and restrictions on women’s presence in public caused barriers to accessing banking services.

At the same time, Afghan women cannot access aid organizations for food packages, clothing, cookware, toiletries, cash, or voucher-based assistance.

Similarly, women who cannot leave because of a lack of financial resources or access to information face a greater risk of sex and gender-based violence. Anyhow, since the Taliban seized power, the prevalence of child marriage is expectingly rising, and their families may make to marry off young girls as a means of repaying debt.

Changing Dynamics of Afghan Migration

Afghan women migrate for many reasons, so they do not have enough chances to travel safely and legally.

Traditionally young unaccompanied Afghan men abroad seek both work and safety and ultimately arrange for family members’ reunification and wish their family to join them in a hosting country. However, the circumstances in Afghanistan have become increasingly untenable, and more women will forcefully leave the country. Shortly after, this gendered dynamic will worsen further as increased restrictions on women’s mobility will make travel even more difficult and dangerous for women.

Afghan women’s migration barriers are considerable, such as access to safe transport, women’s access to air travel limitations, access to visas, and legal travel options. Due to the closure of the foreign embassies and consulates in Afghanistan, women must cross into Iran and Pakistan, primarily undocumented and illicitly, to approach foreign consulates. Also, they face additional barriers, like affording prohibitively expensive visa fees.

Safe Migration Pathways Need of Afghan Women

As mentioned, Afghan women are at risk of increasingly dangerous and costly migration options and facing untenable circumstances in Afghanistan. Safe and affordable migration pathways are critical, and a protection in exile guarantee is necessary.

Some countries, including Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, have decided to grant international protection to all Afghan women and girls seeking asylum. Also, Germany has initiated relocating the Afghan women program and other at-risk groups in Afghanistan. However, these initiatives let Afghan women leave Afghanistan and travel to asylum-offering countries, but many Afghan women do not have to begin with this option. Also, these initiatives do not ensure whether Afghan girls and women stuck in neighboring host countries or transit will receive the necessary protection assistance.

Some host countries with large Afghan populations, such as Canada, Germany, and France, could expedite the issuance of family reunification visas. Also, they could prioritize the initiating pathways for Afghan women to leave Afghanistan. Meanwhile, international humanitarian organizations helping Afghan women could increase gender-specific protection monitoring and actions in Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey.

They could make key transit points to provide Afghan women with reliable information on potential risks, asylum or subsidiary protection options, and gender-specific physical and mental health assistance. The international community should continually pressure the Taliban to ease restrictions on women’s mobility and repeal or introduce more exemptions to decrease restricting women’s access to education, employment, healthcare, and freedom of movement.

Humanitarian actors must advocate for sustainable solutions to ensure Afghan women can continue to contribute to the country’s social, political, and economic progress while receiving protection assistance from aid organizations. This action will require the involvement of any number of actors, mainly through the leadership of Afghan women. Policymakers, advocates, NGOs, diaspora organizations, and others must coordinate toward tangible targets, and donors must commit for the long term.

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