As US troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, opening the door for a potential Taliban comeback, women across the war-torn country are nervous about losing their hard-won freedoms in the pursuit of peace.
The militants were in power for around five years until the US invasion of 2001. They ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist that turned women into virtual prisoners under a strict interpretation of sharia law.
The Taliban's fall transformed women's lives, much more so in urban areas like Kabul than in conservative rural Afghanistan.
But across the country, women remain wary of the insurgents, desperate to see an end to the violence, but fearful of paying a heavy price.
Under the Taliban, women were barred from seeking education or work -- rights that Afghan female professionals are fiercely protective of today.
In the western city of Herat, saleswoman Setara Akrimi, 32, told AFP: “I will be very happy if peace comes and the Taliban stop killing our people.” “But if the Taliban come back to power... with their old mentality, it is a matter of concern for me,” the divorced mother of three added.
“If they tell me to sit at home, I will not be able to support my family,” she said.
“There are thousands of women like me in Afghanistan, we are all worried.” Akrimi's anxieties are echoed by Kabul-based veterinarian Tahera Rezai, who believes “the arrival of the Taliban will affect women's right to work, freedom and independence”.
“There has been no change in their mentality,” the 30-year-old told AFP. Passionate about her career, Rezai said she was pessimistic about her prospects if the insurgents return to government, even in a truncated capacity.
“Looking at their history, I feel less hopeful... I believe the situation will get harder for working women like me,” she said.