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On International Women's Day, Afghan women blast the Taliban and say the world has "neglected us completely"

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Islamabad — As the world marks International Women's Day on Wednesday, the women of Afghanistan have little to celebrate. The Taliban regime has methodically stripped them of their basic rights since reclaiming power over the country in the summer of 2021. Forced from most workplaces and higher education, many women with the means to do so have left their country, and thousands now live as refugees in neighboring Pakistan.

Journalist and television presenter Nafeesa Malali is among them. She now lives in a small apartment in a remote corner of Pakistan's sprawling capital, Islamabad. As she spoke to CBS News, the bottle of anti-depressants she's been prescribed sat next to her.

Afghan journalist and television presenter Nafeesa Malali, seen during on the air in her native country before she fled across the border to Pakistan as a refugee following the Taliban's return to power in 2021. Courtesy of Nafeesa Malali

Malali said she feels like she's trapped in a cage. The joy of previous women's days in her native country, during the U.S.-led war that forced the Taliban from power for two decades, are a distant memory.  

"Prior to the Taliban regaining power, I would attend two to three functions organized on Women's Day to celebrate the progress," she said.

Afghan women were not necessarily treated as equals to men in the conservative nation during the war, but they did gain the rights to study, work and travel.

"Today, all of the past 20 years of progress have been erased, and the Taliban have excluded Afghan women from all parts of society," she lamented.

Many Afghan women feel the international community has neglected them since the Taliban came back to power. They see Western nations watching and condemning the Islamic hardliners, but doing little to help.

Education activist Malala Yousafzai on the Taliban banning women from universities 04:23

Humaira, who used to work as a makeup artist for an Afghan national television network, has also become a refugee in Islamabad's slums.

"It's depressing to realize the international community has neglected us completely," she told CBS News. "I cannot afford to send my son and daughter to school. It costs around $30 a month. My life is miserable here and I cannot see a good future ahead."

Humaira reserves her anger, and all of the blame for her current circumstances, exclusively for the Taliban, but she's adamant that the U.S. and other Western powers should have taken a tougher stand as the hardline regime took concrete steps to deprive women of their rights.

She pointed specifically to the edict from the group's supreme leader in December that saw women indefinitely barred from the country's universities.

"Had the world taken a stronger stance against the Taliban, they wouldn't have dared to exclude women from public life," she said.

In a statement released Wednesday, the United Nations' mission to Afghanistan called the country the most repressive in the world on women's rights, blasting the Taliban regime's "singular focus on imposing rules that leave most women and girls effectively trapped in their homes."

"It has been distressing to witness their methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere," Roza Otunbayeva, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general and head of the U.N. mission to Afghanistan, said in the statement.

Afghan women attend a protest against their country's Taliban rulers, in Islamabad, Pakistan, on International Women's Day, March 8, 2023. Sami Yousafzai/CBS News

Around 140 Afghan women held an International Women's Day rally Wednesday in front of the press club in Islamabad, chanting slogans against the Taliban, but also calling for action from the rest of the world.

Women's rights Activist Minisa Mubariz, 37, told CBS News that she and the other women at the protest were "extremely concerned about the international community's silence on the situation for women in Afghanistan."

"Afghanistan has become a prison for women. 20 million women are in this great Taliban prison, and the world is just watching and keeping silent," she said, adding that it's not only a figurative prison: She accused the Taliban's intelligence services of holding about 800 Afghan women in actual prisons, "brutally, against every right that should be given."

"The tyranny of the Taliban is increasing day by day against Afghan women," said Mubariz (seen in the photo above in the yellow jacket and purple scarf).

Muzdalifa Kakar worked as a journalist and presenter for the TV network of the former Afghan government's parliament. She told CBS News she was forced to leave her country about four months ago.

"I am tired of the ineffective slogans of the international community," she said, calling on the world to "act responsibly" and stop "neglecting of its duty" to Afghan women.  

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