Protests get harder for Afghan women amid risks and red tape

Afghan women's rights defenders and civil activists protest to call on the Taliban for the preservation of their achievements and education.

By Zeba Siddiqui and Parniyan Zemaryalai

Women in Afghanistan who object to what the Taliban have said and done since returning to power are finding it harder to protest, now that impromptu demonstrations have been banned and previous rallies were broken up by gunfire and beatings.

Resistance within families and concerns over sharing information over social media that could identify people involved are also acting as deterrents, according to six female protesters Reuters spoke to across the country.

Sporadic demonstrations by women demanding that the Taliban respect their civil freedoms have been captured on social media, as have the sometimes violent responses, drawing the world’s attention to issues of equality and human rights.

The last time the Taliban ruled in the 1990s, they banned women from work and girls from school, allowed women to leave their homes only when accompanied by a male relative and insisted that women wore all-enveloping burqas.

Those who broke the rules were sometimes whipped in public by the Islamist militants’ “moral police”.

This time the Taliban are promising greater freedom for women, including in education and employment, in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law.

Yet older girls are still not back at school, there are no women in senior positions in the new government, the Women’s Ministry in Kabul has been shut and the Taliban have said women will only be allowed to work in a small number of jobs.

Women wanting to express their anger publicly are struggling to do so. Six who took part in demonstrations after the Taliban stormed to power on Aug. 15 said they had not done so since early September.

“We have a lot of plans to stage more protests, but unfortunately due to security concerns, we are not going out much right now,” said Nasima Bakhtiary, a former commerce ministry worker in Kabul.

“We have seen so much harassment … regarding our protests … we have to be careful.”

Earlier this month, the Taliban said protests were not banned, but that those wanting to hold demonstrations needed to seek prior permission and provide details of place, timings and slogans that would be chanted.

Taliban spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Based on interviews with organizers, social media posts and advocacy groups, Reuters counted seven significant women-led protests between Aug. 15, when the Taliban came to power, and Sept 8. when they made permission necessary.

Since Sept. 8, Reuters has counted one, on Sept. 19 outside the women’s ministry building in Kabul after it was shut down. The sign outside has been switched to that of the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – the moral police.

Maryam Sadat, a 23-year-old law student and protest organizer in Kabul, said she and a small number of others had tried to stage a demonstration on Sept. 30, but it was dispersed by members of the Taliban.

Women have also been involved in broader protests, some of which have involved hundreds of people. Several people have been killed, some demonstrators have been beaten and the Taliban have fired warning shots in the air to disperse crowds.



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