For more than two months, Muska, a 35-year-old Afghan woman who preferred not to reveal her last name for security concerns, has gone to various Taliban government offices in Kabul literally begging officials for a new passport.
“I’ve been beaten by Taliban guards, insulted verbally and have been turned away and told that there is no passport for me,” Muska told VOA by phone.
A former government official with a master’s degree, Muska was fired from her job after the Taliban took power last August. The Taliban government has fired women from all public jobs with some exceptions in health and education sectors.
Terrified for her future under Taliban leadership, Muska applied for graduate programs at universities abroad and received a generous scholarship at a university in the U.S.
“I have to fill out my I-20 form and submit a visa application on time in order for me to be able to start the program in the fall, but without a passport I can do nothing.”
Two other Afghan women also told VOA their applications for a passport were rejected without explanation.
“When we go to the passport department, [Taliban guards] order us to go away and don’t let us in as if we’re some kind of a virus,” said Nasreen Ahmadi, adding that she had received a research fellowship in the U.S.
The passport ban also impacts Afghan women who live and work outside Afghanistan but need valid passports in order to travel internationally.
“When my passport expires next year in May, I have no idea what I will do,” Pashtana Dorani, director of an Afghan educational organization and a fellow at Wellesley College, told VOA.
Taliban authorities have not officially announced a ban on women’s passports, but an announcement on the passport department’s website states that “new passport registration is suspended until further notice.”
A spokesman for the passport department told reporters in Kabul on March 29 that issuance of new passports “will resume soon,” but he did not clarify whether women, especially those without a male chaperone, will be given passports.
Even if women and girls have valid passports, they cannot travel outside the country unless they are accompanied by a religiously-approved male chaperone (father, brother, husband, son), according to new restrictions the Taliban enforced.
“It is obviously a manifestation of gender-based discrimination that also affects their fundamental right of freedom of movement and education,” Reem Alsalem, U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women, told VOA.
While the passport and travel restrictions deprive Afghan women and girls from work and education outside the country, Taliban authorities have also enforced a series of restrictions on women’s work and education inside Afghanistan.
Despite previous assurances about the resumption of secondary education for girls in March, last week Taliban authorities announced middle and high schools will remain closed for female students.
The announcement was met with widespread international condemnation and led to a cancellation of scheduled U.S.-Taliban talks in Qatar last week.
“Denying girls secondary education is one of the many manifestations of structural discrimination that women and girls are subjected to and a reminder that the de facto authorities are continuing with their policies to erase women from public life and to stunt their ability to enjoy their fundamental human rights,” said Alsalem.
Taliban officials have said the ban on girls’ post-elementary education is temporary, until appropriate religious arrangements are made — an assertion experts repudiate.
“It is incomprehensible to me that the Taliban justify their actions citing religious doctrine as countries across the Organization of Islamic Conference have achieved or are actively pursuing gender equality in education,” the U.N. special rapporteur said.
Women’s rights activists say the international community should do more to hold the Taliban accountable for their repressive policies.
“Put the Taliban on travel sanction list,” said Dorani of Wellesley College. “I find it ironic how the U.S. and any other country can tweet but won't lift a finger for women's rights.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul is closed, forcing all Afghan passport holders to travel out of the country to apply for U.S. visas.
That further complicates the ability of women like Muska to obtain an education and receive work opportunities outside Afghanistan.
“I cannot travel because I don’t have a passport and even if I get a passport I cannot travel without a male guardian,” she said. “It’s a double whammy made to ensure women like me remain trapped in a cycle of denials.”
Both Nasreen and Muska said they are calling on the U.S. government to grant women like themselves waivers to travel to the U.S. and start their education without a Taliban passport.
“It’s not enough just condemning the Taliban for their brutal misogynistic policies, the world needs to help us achieve what Taliban denies us,” said Nasreen.
The U.S. government has evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans over the past seven months and has offered humanitarian parole to those who have entered the U.S. without travel documents.
“We will continue to engage diplomatically to resolve any issues and to hold the Taliban to their public pledge to let all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from other countries freely depart Afghanistan,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA, adding that there are no U.S. consular services available inside Afghanistan and visa applicants had to seek appointments in third countries.
Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report.