Note: to mark the one year anniversary of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the stories of eight Afghan women produced in different countries, will be published in Farsi and English by Rukhshana Media. These stories were first published by the Time Magazine in collaboration with Rukhshana Media and Pulitzer Center.
By: —Amie Ferris-Rotman and Zahra Joya
When the Taliban walked into the capital of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021, America’s longest war came to an end. The vacuum left by the exit of U.S. troops forced tens of thousands of Afghans to flee. Some were evacuated by Western nations. Others escaped on foot. For many Afghan women, the Taliban takeover spelled the end of the freedoms they had enjoyed for two decades.
One year on, thousands of women are scattered across the world. For this project, a global team of female journalists and photographers spent time with eight individuals who are building new lives, from the beaches of Florida to the suburbs of Dublin.
Starting anew has not been easy. They ache for their homeland and their loved ones, unsure when they will see them again beyond their cell-phone screens. At night, they often return to Afghanistan in their dreams. They are wrestling with new identities, spending their days learning new languages and exchanging their Afghan air force uniforms for restaurant aprons.
In a country where nearly two-thirds of the population is under 25 years old, members of Afghanistan’s young generation particularly flourished during the U.S. and NATO’s war against the Taliban, which had ruled the country in the late 1990s before being ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001. The international community encouraged women to chase their dreams, be emboldened by the end of the repressive rule many of those same women had known as children.
When the final U.S. troops withdrew in a chaotic exit last summer, Afghan women saw their hard-won gains evaporate overnight. Despite promising to honor women’s rights “within Islam,” the Taliban has intensified its crackdowns-—just as Afghan activists had long warned.
The Taliban has banned high school for girls, placed restrictions on women working and traveling abroad, and ordered that women stay at home—and that, if they must go out, they cover their entire body and face except for their eyes. The regime has closed almost all shelters for women fleeing violence, and domestic violence is now sharply on the rise. It disbanded the ministry for women’s affairs and suppressed women’s demonstrations. The number of child marriages is surging, and women are increasingly committing suicide.
The Afghan women who managed to get out are the lucky ones, but they feel betrayed by a world that promised to stand by them. They mourn the loss of freedoms that reverberates across their nation and several generations.
These are women who once were full of optimism about the future of their country. They joined Afghanistan’s security forces, or became educators, artists, and activists. Now they are free and safe. But they are also far from the homes they love, and the futures they deserve.