Between 60 and 80 women have taken to the streets of Herat as the Taliban prepare the new government

"We are not afraid, we are united": Afghan women stand up for their rights

PHOTO/AFP - Afghan women hold placards as they take part in a protest in Herat on 2 September 2021.

Amid the formation of the new Taliban government, dozens of Afghan women have demonstrated in defence of their rights. These protests come days after Mohamed Abbas Stanikzai, deputy head of the Taliban's political office, declared that women were unlikely to get high positions in the new administration. As a result, around 60 to 80 women took to the streets of Herat chanting phrases such as "we have the right to education, jobs and security" and "we are not afraid, we are united". The demonstrators also carried banners demanding rights under the new Taliban regime. 

Some women even said they were willing to accept the burqa if they allowed their daughters to go to school, reports AFP. "We follow the events and we don't see any women at the Taliban meetings," Mariam Ebram, a protester, lamented to the news agency. Ebram, 24, said they have tried to talk to the Taliban, but "there is no change", referring to the previous Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 to 2001. Those years were marked by misogynistic laws that prevented women from studying and working.  "After weeks of trying to intellectualise with them, we women have decided to make our voices heard publicly," she added.

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Within days of taking Kabul, the Taliban began a media propaganda campaign feigning a change of attitude towards women. They allowed one of their leaders to be interviewed by a female journalist, and claimed that women would have rights "under Islamic law". However, Afghan women like Miriam Ebram warn that the movement has not changed, and just as under the previous government, the rights of girls and women will suffer a major setback.

Beheshta Arghand, the journalist who interviewed the Taliban leader on television, also warns that the situation for women in Afghanistan "is very bad". Arghand, fearing for her life, fled to Qatar a few days later. "I want to tell the international community to do everything they can for Afghan women," she said. 

During the Taliban advance in early August, the UN reported that some women had already been flogged in public for not complying with the rules. Also, a women's rights activist was killed in Balkh.

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 "We want to be part of the government. No government can be formed without women", stressed Basira Taheri, one of the organisers of the demonstration in Herat. She announced that the protests would continue and called on the rest of the country to "expand these demonstrations to other provinces".

In recent years, Afghan women have made small gains in terms of rights, such as work and education. For this reason, they will not allow these hard-won freedoms to be taken away from them. "The women of this land are informed and educated," Taheri added.

Social media and having international information at their fingertips are also key factors in these protests, and will continue to be so in all protests under the Taliban regime. "The Afghani people have raised their voices very strongly using social media for their causes," Nehan Nargis, a former government minister, told the BBC. "People are much more aware," he added.

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This is not the first time women have demonstrated since the Taliban took over Kabul. A few days after the insurgents arrived in the capital, a group of women demonstrated, chanting "women are half of society". As in Herat, the Kabul group emphasised the right to education and to participate in politics.

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