Hundreds of women, many in long dresses, their faces obscured by black veils, filled a Kabul university auditorium on Saturday with signs – many in English – in favor of the Taliban and their strict interpretation. of Islam, including the education of men and women.
The Taliban said the protest at Shaheed Rabbani University of Education, which followed last week’s anti-Taliban protests by Afghan women demanding equal rights, was organized by professors and university students. .
Journalists on the street near Saturday’s march were kept away from protesters by Taliban fighters armed with automatic rifles and not allowed to speak with any of the women. Subsequent attempts to reach participants via social media or the university went unanswered.
The protest, held on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, served as a stark reminder of how, despite two decades and more than $ 780 million spent to promote women’s rights, after the departure of US forces last month, Afghan women could be decades, if not centuries, back.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned women and girls from most jobs and schooling, and virtually imprisoned them in their homes. In public, women were required to wear the burqa, a tent-like garment that covered them from head to toe, with a crochet mesh grid over the eyes. Its use to erase the appearance of women from public life was seen in the West as a symbol of Taliban oppression.
The demonstration of women wearing head-to-toe clothing and face coverings on the anniversary of 9/11 has been a stern rebuke to the United States and its allies, which have long pleaded for women’s rights as the reason for the continuation of the war in Afghanistan long after the Taliban was overthrown, Al Qaeda was defused and Osama bin Laden was assassinated.
Many women appeared to wear a form of dress familiar to conservative Muslims in southern Afghanistan, including a veil, while others wore the more traditional blue burqa.
Since the United States and its allies left Kabul on August 30, leaving Afghanistan under Taliban control, the country’s women have been at the forefront of protests demanding that their rights continue to be respected.
Taliban leaders responded to the protests with violence, beating participants, including women, and insisting that anyone taking to the streets for a public protest must first get approval from their interim government.
The interim Taliban government’s education ministry said women attending Saturday’s pro-Islamist protest requested and obtained permission to hold the event.
“Unlike other protests in Kabul, this is the second all-female non-violent protest and journalists have been allowed to cover the protest freely,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The women also praised the separate classes program for boys and girls in all universities and institutes and pledged that they would work to strengthen the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan,” the ministry said.
September 9, 2021, 5:59 p.m. ET
But the presence of Taliban fighters, the efficiency with which images of the event and official statements were disseminated, and its timing – on September 11 – suggest that the protest was not only endorsed by the Taliban but potentially orchestrated. by them.
Standing on a podium decorated with large white flags, some of the women participating in Saturday’s protest criticized the recent anti-Taliban protests, insisting that women should abide by the Taliban’s strict policy of women wearing a full coverage.
One woman said anti-Taliban protesters joined the marches last week just to gain fame in the West, according to a recording obtained by the New York Times.
She acknowledged that these women held important roles in society, including doctors and teachers, but said they did not represent all Afghan women.
After the women exited the auditorium, they held a short march, chanting in support of the Taliban and holding up signs, including several in English that read: “The women who left Afghanistan cannot represent us.” and “Our rights are protected in Islam. . ”
Understanding the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here is more on their origin story and their record as leaders.
Taliban fighters cleared the traffic so that the rented buses could transport the women from the university grounds.
Even before the Taliban returned to power, Afghanistan ranked low on all lists for protecting women and leading in the need for shelter, counseling and courts that could help ensure security. women.
Nonetheless, after 20 years of Western support, girls and women made up about 40 percent of all students in the country. Women joined the military and police, and held a political office. Some became internationally renowned singers, participated in the Olympics and in robotics teams, climbed mountains and more – all things that were almost impossible at the turn of the century.
But many of these women, seeing no future for themselves, fled the country. Herat women’s soccer team visited Italy, five members of the Afghan girls’ robotics team landed in mexico, and Zarifa Ghafari, one of Afghanistan’s first female mayors, arrived in Germany, where she recently met Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Ms Ghafari expressed outrage at the images of women at Kabul University on Saturday. “It’s not our culture! ” she wrote on Twitter. “Afghan women are not part of extremism, do not make them wild, do not impose ISIS culture on us!”
When the Taliban their interim government announced Tuesday, Western leaders noted that it had failed to deliver on promises that the group would be more inclusive of Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic groups and religious minorities. It was also composed entirely of men, breaking with another oath of Taliban leaders.
Hours before the announcement of the interim government, hundreds of Afghans, including women, took to the streets to peacefully demand that their rights be upheld under the leadership of their new leaders. Taliban fighters used rifle butts and batons to violently disperse the protest, scaring the participants away.
Wednesday, two Afghan journalists were arrested and violently assaulted for covering a demonstration in Kabul. Photos showed the two journalists’ buttocks covered in bruises and gashes after being repeatedly whipped with cables, sparking international outcry.
Reporting was provided by Sami Sahak and Wali Arian