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What new horrors has the Taliban regime unleashed on the people of Afghanistan and how are the commoners there coping? This is the question on the minds of millions of liberal-minded global citizens. During the earlier Taliban rule that ended in 2001, women and girls were mostly denied education and employment. Burqas were made mandatory in public and women were forbidden to leave home without a male companion. With the Taliban takeover in August 2021, things have begun the same way. Taliban members have whitewashed murals in Afghanistan and closed down beauty salons and shops. Posters promoting healthcare have been replaced with slogans congratulating Afghans on their victory.
The Taliban, after coming into power again in 2021, said that they're not against women being educated or having jobs. But their actions speak otherwise. Since they seized control in August, they have asked women, except those in the public health sector, to stay away from work until the security situation improves. Security was one of the reasons they gave in the 1990s to prevent women from working outside the home. Women fear this time will be no different.
Are The Taliban Any Different Than in 2001?
The Taliban are now in discussions about the make-up of their new government. What has changed is that they have pledged to make their leadership inclusive and to allow women to work within the limits of Sharia law. However, the rebranding is being treated with scepticism, with experts questioning whether it is an attempt to seek international recognition and ensure a continuation of aid. Women are just as sceptical, with a majority of them doubting that they will find a place in Afghanistan's new administration. While the Taliban is talking about a government, it is not talking about women's participation in the government.
There is one other thing that has changed. While protests were unimaginable during the previous Taliban rule, they are a reality now, as Afghan women are not willing to let go of their rights to education and work so easily. They are also demanding a role in the government that the Taliban is seeking to form.
The Protest In Herat
Dozens of defiant Afghan women took to the streets in Herat against the Taliban and staged protests, demanding their right to work, education and participation in government. The protesters slammed Taliban for its laws confining women at home and denying them their role in talks related to the formation of a government. The protesters marched up to Herat's provincial governor office where they conveyed their demands to the Taliban.
"It is our right to have education, work and security," a group of around 50 female demonstrators chanted, waving placards on the streets of Afghanistan's western city of Herat.
Herat is an ancient city on the Silk Route and close to the Iranian border. It has long been a cosmopolitan exception to more conservative cities in Afghanistan. But, in the last month some women have already started wearing the burqa there. "We are even ready to wear burqas if they tell us, but we want the women to go to school and work," Fereshta Taheri, one of the demonstrators, told AFP. Herat's demonstrators said they hoped their example would inspire others across the country.
Most working women in Herat are at home due to fear and uncertainty. Women in emergency services like doctors and nurses who went back to work, were mocked by the Taliban. Though primary school girls have returned to school, the Taliban says further education is on hold until after the formation of a government.
Women not only want education and jobs, they also want participation in the government. "We follow the news, and we don't see any women in Taliban meetings and gatherings," said Herat protester Mariam Ebram. "The talks are ongoing to form a government, but they are not talking about women's participation," Basira Taheri, one of the rally's organisers said.
Former government minister Nehan Nargis, speaking to the BBC from Norway where she fled to last month, said, "People are much more aware, they have different aspirations for Afghanistan now, and expectations from government. The Afghan people...have collectively raised their voice very strongly using the platform of social media for their issues and causes...and they will continue to use that."
Violence Against Women Protestors and Journalists
The women say they were protesting peacefully but were faced with violence. They were stopped, lashed with whips, and beaten with batons. "They struck my back. It was very painful and I can still feel the pain," said one of the protesters.
During protests in Herat, three people were killed. The Taliban were firing guns in the air to disperse crowds. There are many videos online of the group's fighters lashing protesters with whips. They have not only attacked women protestors but have also unleashed violence on journalists covering the protests. Some have had their equipment destroyed, some detained, and others were brutally beaten.
The Taliban have also responded by effectively banning protests. They've said demonstrators must get permission from the Ministry of Justice, and then give information to security services about not only the location and time of the protest, but also the banners and slogans to be used.
In the light of these developments, some women say that their families fear for their lives and are stopping them from going on protest, while others say that that they have no choice but to protest and demand their rights - for the sake of their families, their children and all future generations.
Protests And Violence In Kabul And Other Cities Of Aghanistan
The Herat protests were first-of-its-kind and true to the hopes of the protestors, it has sparked similar protests in other provinces and cities in Afghanistan. Notable among them is the protest in Kabul. The women's march in Kabul began peacefully. Demonstrators laid a wreath outside Afghanistan's Defense Ministry to honour Afghan soldiers who died fighting the Taliban. Then they marched on to the presidential palace.
"We want equal rights, we want women in government," dozens of female protesters chanted as they marched down a street in Kabul. However, as the group reached the presidential palace, they had to face violence. A dozen Taliban special forces ran into the crowd, firing in the air to scare and scatter the protestors.
It is noteworthy that a day prior to the protests, the Taliban had announced their interim cabinet of ministers. There are no women in it, and they've also abolished the women's affairs ministry.
While the news of women's protests in Afghanistan in spite of the obstacles is heartening, it is yet to be seen whether the womenfolk succeed in bringing about real change. Let's hope and pray for the women in Afghanistan!