The Taliban are pressuring female nurses in Afghanistan to quit, further intensifying a medical and humanitarian crisis there.

Four Afghan nurses

Afghan nurses wait to receive their salaries outside an administrating office at the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital, in Kabul, Afghanistan. 24 February 2022. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Sadaf works at Jamhuriat Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. A 25-year-old nurse, Sadaf had big dreams when she started university four years ago to study medicine.

After the United States pulled its troops out of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban banned women from universities. This forced Sadaf, like hundreds of other women to leave university. Instead she began working as a nurse in a hospital. Now even that opportunity has been taken away, as the Taliban are making it difficult for women to work, even as nurses.

Sadaf isn’t her real name. We cannot use her name because it has become dangerous for people in Afghanistan to talk to the press, particularly women.

“After the fall of the government to the Taliban, we women were gradually removed from society, and now the Taliban do not even allow us to work in the hospital,” Sadaf said. She said that instead of caring for people in the hospital, she now sits at home like a prisoner.

“The Taliban warned me that I should no longer work in this hospital and other hospitals because according to them, a woman should not work outside the home,” Sadaf said.

A global health emergency

The new restrictions on nurses in Afghanistan comes as the International Council of Nurses (ICN), in its latest report documents a worldwide shortage of nurses.

Stress and burnout caused in part by the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in many nurses leaving the profession. This is a global health emergency, the report said. Studies show that increasing numbers of nurses are expected to leave in the next few years in countries across the globe.

If nurses are to successfully fulfill their central role in improving health systems, this must be addressed immediately.

Relying on nurse resilience is not an option, the report said. Governments must accept responsibility for their inadequate planning and policy that has caused chronic nursing shortages worldwide.

Making an already difficult job more difficult

Afghanistan is an Islamic country where female nurses are not allowed to care for male patients and where pregnant women are uncomfortable with the presence of male nurses at childbirth. But by expelling women from hospitals, Sadaf said, the Taliban opened up more opportunities for men to work in maternity wards.

Before the new restrictions female doctors rarely worked in hospitals. Now the Taliban has pressured them to stop working altogether.

Wherever they work in the hospitals, female nurses often face mistreatment from hospital management, doctors and patients and their companions, Sadaf said. Unlike in other countries, nurses in Afghanistan are not respected for the care they provide. Additionally said another nurse, who also could not be named, even when working in women’s wards female nurses are required to wear a full hijab, face covered with a mask, and loose and long clothes.

“The hospital director warned us that even our nursing uniforms should not have belts,” the nurse said. This means that the clothes should be completely loose and fall below the knees.

She also said that the Taliban soldiers at the entrance of the hospital monitor their movements. “What clothes we come from home or go home with, and whether we have Muharram Sharia (husband or fiancé) with us or not,” she said.

Progress that took decades evaporated in months.

All this has resulted in rising unemployment of female nurses and midwives over the past two years.

Over the past two decades, hundreds of programs for job training, job creation and capacity-building for nurses and midwives were established in Afghanistan through the support programs of the World Health Organization, the United States Agency for International Development and other agencies.

The cut of these aid funds have made things difficult not only for nurses and midwives, but for the entire Afghan health system.

In less than two years, nearly 2,000 small and large care and treatment centers were closed throughout Afghanistan. Hundreds of doctors and nurses were unemployed. In 2021, ICN President Pamela Cipriano said that the Afghan health system was on the brink of collapse and that many health care workers were fleeing the country.

The country has endured more than four decades of war and still every day ambulances continue to take injured people to hospitals. But each day, it seems, there are fewer nurses to care for them.

Three questions to consider:

  1. Why are women in Afghanistan being pressured to leave their jobs?
  2. Why do you think that the shortage of nurses is a global problem?
  3. Do you think religion should be a determining factor in whether someone can work in a hospital?
Rafiullah Nikzad

Rafiullah Nikzad is a former reporter with Khurshid TV in Kabul and has also reported for Voice Independent London. Through journalism, he wants to portray the truths of the society and stop oppression and injustice.

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