The Taliban have ruled Afghanistan for nearly two years now, and Afghans have been plunged into ever deeper misery. I have tried to depict the human side of that despair, showing how people struggle to resist as the economy collapses around them, with the Taliban placing more restrictions on society and shutting women behind closed doors.
This has meant going to brickyards where struggling families have had to put their own children to work. Young boys and girls, grim but resigned through a sense of duty, do heavy labor, shaping, baking and hauling mud bricks. A recent survey by Save the Children estimated that half the families in Afghanistan have children working just to keep food on the table. The economy which was already crumbling, completely fell apart after the Taliban takeover in August 2021; the international community shut down the billions in financing given to the previous government. Inflation and unemployment have spiraled, leaving Afghans unable to afford basic food. According to the U.N. World Food Program, half the population is facing acute hunger, and six million are on the brink of starvation.
I walked beneath the bridges and up the mountains in Kabul, seeing drug addicts as more and more turn to meth and opium to escape the harsh reality of their lives. I met young women who had once found fulfilment and joy in playing sport, but are now barred from the athletics they love, and feel their futures have been cut off. “I am not the same person anymore,” said one young woman who had been a boxer, but was told by the Taliban never to enter a gym again.
“Since the Taliban came, I feel like I’m dead.”
In Afghanistan it often feels as if everyone has given up all hope. The Gallup annual Global Emotions Report surveying feelings in countries around the world, captured some of Afghanistan’s misery expressed in numbers, noting that since the Taliban takeover, the country has had the lowest level of positive emotions of any country surveyed over the past 16 years. When Afghans rated their lives on a scale of zero to ten, one in four replied zero, and nearly four in ten said that they expected to be at zero within five years. Overall, 98% rated their lives so poorly they were classified as suffering, i.e. the lowest category.
For women, life has become increasingly restricted, almost to the point of suffocation. The Taliban have barred girls from middle and high school and women from university. They have kept women out of government jobs, banned NGOs from employing them, and have created so many obstacles that it is virtually impossible for women to work outside their homes. They are not even allowed in public parks. On the street they have to cover not only their hair but also their faces, and many have simply chosen never to go outside.
“Afghanistan remains the worst country in the world to be a woman or a girl.” [Richard Bennett, U.N. special rapporteur on Afghanistan]