In one of the first public protests since the Taliban took over, a group of Afghan women took to the streets of Kabul, waving signs and demanding their rights to work, education and political participation — all while being surrounded by heavily armed men.
In a video that drew close to 10,000 retweets after being posted by Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, four women were seen holding handwritten signs while Taliban fighters looked on. The bold gathering was reportedly held near the presidential palace on Tuesday, mere days after the hardline group seized power on Sunday.
Several fighters were nearby in a truck and a crowd of onlookers was seen in the video, but no immediate action appeared to be taken against the women. “These brave women took to the streets in Kabul to protest against the Taliban,” Masih tweeted. “I hope more women and men join them.”
Other Twitter users chimed in, expressing their admiration for the protest group at a time when fears are growing over threats to women’s rights now that the Taliban is back in power after two decades.
“Incredible bravery - to the level of death defiance,” said one Twitter user.
“May they be safe. May others have the courage to join them,” wrote another. “I’m in awe.”
Aside from the women’s protest in Kabul, it appears a few other gatherings are cropping up across the country.
Footage also circulated on social media on Wednesday from another general demonstration against the Taliban in Jalalabad city, Nangarhar Province. In the footage, people marched and cycled through the streets, waving the country’s green, red and black flag a day before Afghanistan’s Independence Day on August 19. Local reports said two were killed and dozens injured in the gathering.
Other photos surfaced from Khost Province of protesters waving the Afghanistan flag and blocking roads.
Many Afghans are attempting to flee the country following the Taliban’s shock return to power, dreading a repeat of the period from 1996 to 2001, when the fundamentalist Islamic group carried out public floggings, stonings, and amputations.
Under its harsh interpretation of Sharia law, the group also banned many common entertainments from music to movies.
But women, who were prevented from getting an education, having a career or traveling outside the house without a male guardian until the group’s ouster in 2001, are especially fearful. The previous Taliban regime limited schooling for girls to a few years. Women had to be covered from head to toe in a burqa, and they could be punished for exposing skin or wearing nail polish on their fingertips.
Although senior Taliban officials have claimed that they would respect women’s rights “within the framework of Islamic law”, global observers and rights groups fear freedoms could be eroded. “Women are going to be very active within our society,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in the group’s first press conference on Tuesday. “We are going to allow women to work and study within our frameworks.”
Many in the country remain skeptical, especially young Afghan women in major cities, who have never experienced life under Taliban rule. Several have spoken up about their fears, especially afraid of what they stand to lose.
Some of the Taliban promises seemed to have played out. Female Afghan TV anchor Beheshta Arghand made headlines and history when she interviewed a Taliban representative live on air, quizzing him about door-to-door searches taking place in Kabul. But that was quickly overshadowed by the reported replacement of a woman on Afghanistan’s state television network.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said there have been “chilling reports” of severe restrictions on human rights across Afghanistan.
“I am particularly concerned by accounts of mounting human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan,” he told the Security Council this week.
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