Mental health among women in Afghanistan is deteriorating, UN report finds

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — The mental health of Afghan women, who have suffered under harsh measures imposed by the Taliban since taking power two years ago, has deteriorated across the country, according to a joint report from three U.N. agencies released Tuesday.

Nearly 70 percent reported that feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression had grown significantly worse between April and June, an increase from 57 percent in the preceding quarter, according to the report from U.N Women, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Afghan women were interviewed online, in-person and in group consultations as well as via individual telesurveys. In total, 592 Afghan women across 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces took part.

The women spoke of suffering from psychological problems including depression, insomnia, loss of hope and motivation, anxiety, fear, aggression, isolation and increasingly isolationist behavior, and thoughts of suicide.

The Taliban, upon taking power in 2021 as U.S. and NATO forces were pulling out of the country following two decades of war, promised a more moderate rule than during their previous period in power in the 1990s. But they have instead imposed harsh measures, many of them targeting women.

READ MORE: UN says the Taliban have further increased restrictions on women and girls in Afghanistan

They have barred women from most areas of public life and work and banned girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade. They have prohibited Afghan women from working at local and non-governmental organizations. The ban was extended to employees of the United Nations in April.

Opportunities to study continued to shrink as community-based education by international organizations was banned and home-based schooling initiatives were regularly shut down by the de facto authorities — a term use by the U.N. for the Taliban government.

Afghanistan is the only country in the world with restrictions on female education and the rights of Afghan women and children are on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available to comment on the report Tuesday, but in the past Taliban officials have cited Shariah, or Islamic, law to support their policies regarding women and girls.

Last month, Mohammad Sadiq Akif, the spokesman for the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue, said that women lose value if men can see their uncovered faces in public.

The report found that 81 percent of women had not engaged at all with local Taliban authorities on issues important to them between April and June 2023. This finding was consistent with engagement levels in the previous quarter, said the report.

Forty-six percent of women said international recognition of the Taliban government should not happen under any circumstances, while 50 percent warned that recognition should only occur under specific conditions contingent on improving women’s rights. These include restoring education and employment and forming an inclusive government.

The women expressed concern that recognition would only encourage the Taliban government to continue becoming stricter in their policies and practices against women and girls.

Afghan women specifically urged the international community to continue political and economic sanctions against the Taliban, including by not granting exemptions to a travel ban. They urged an increase in engagement with the Taliban on gender equality and women’s rights, including by engaging community and religious leaders in awareness and advocacy efforts.

The women said they want support for initiatives that provide counseling and psychological services and they want access to international scholarships and safe migration options for women and girls to study and work overseas.

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