After Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15, 2021, Western media assigned the group a new moniker: “Taliban 2.0.” Indeed, the Islamic fundamentalist group that had ruled Afghanistan in the latter half of the ’90s — overseeing a theocratic regime that repressed women, religious minorities and political opponents — promised to form an “open, inclusive Islamic government” and that women were “going to be very active in the society.”
Danish photographer Nanna Muus Steffensen, 36, has lived in Kabul since 2019. As the international media slowly turned away, Muus saw quickly how the Taliban began to renege on its promises and roll out a series of repressive measures, mostly targeted at Afghan women. The caretaker cabinet installed in September was comprised of hardliners — and no women. That same month, Afghanistan became the only country where girls could not attend high school. And in May, women were ordered to cover their faces in public and to only leave home when necessary. It was, says Muus, “a downward spiral over a year.”
Muus’ photographic work has explored the many ways — some everyday and some life-and-death — these restrictions have altered life in Kabul. Fewer women are seen on the streets, and the colorful clothing they once wore has been swapped for darker garments. Fewer women are allowed to work, contributing to an economic crisis in which more than 90 percent of Afghans are suffering from food insecurity. The plunge of middle-class families into poverty means many can no longer afford to go to private hospitals, inundating public maternity wards. And mental health issues are surfacing among a generation of women suddenly stripped of their professional and social selves. “Their whole identity has been taken away from them — their plans, their purpose, their future, their dreams,” Muus says.