Hundreds of women, many in full burqas, their faces veiled, filled the lecture hall of a Kabul university on Saturday holding banners – many in English – in support of the Taliban and its hard-line interpretation of Islam, including separate education for men. and women.
The Taliban said the demonstration at Shahid Rabbani Educational University, which followed last week’s anti-Taliban protests by Afghan women demanding equal rights, was organized by female and male university lecturers.
Taliban fighters armed with automatic rifles kept reporters in the street near the Saturday rally from the demonstrators and were not allowed to speak with any of the women. Subsequent attempts to reach participants via social media or the university went unanswered.
The demonstration, held on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was a stark reminder of how despite two decades and more than $780 million spent promoting women’s rights, following the departure of US forces last month, Afghan women can be. Go back decades, if not centuries.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they prevented women and girls from holding most jobs and going to school, effectively making them imprisoned in their homes. Women were forced to wear a burqa, a garment that covered them from head to toe, often including their eyes. Its use to erase the appearance of women from public life was seen in the West as a symbol of Taliban persecution.
The demonstration, which included large numbers of dress-clad women in memory of 9/11, was a sharp rebuke to the United States and its allies, who have long cited women’s rights as the reason the war in Afghanistan continued long after the Taliban was ousted. Al-Qaeda was dismantled and Osama bin Laden was assassinated.
Since the United States and its allies left Kabul on August 30, leaving Afghanistan under Taliban control, women in the country have been at the forefront of protests demanding that their rights continue to be respected.
Taliban leaders responded to those protests with violence, beating participants, including women, and insisting that anyone who takes to the streets to participate in a public demonstration must first obtain approval from the interim government.
The Taliban’s acting education ministry said the women at Saturday’s pro-Islamist rally had requested and received permission to hold the event.
“Unlike other demonstrations in Kabul, this is the second violence-free women’s protest, which allowed journalists to cover the protest freely,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said: “The women also welcomed the plan to separate classrooms for boys and girls in all universities and institutes and pledged to work for the strengthening of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
But the presence of Taliban fighters, the efficacy with which photos of the event and official statements were published and the timing – on September 11 – indicate that the demonstration was not only with the consent of the Taliban, but is likely to have been orchestrated by it.
Standing on a platform adorned with large white flags, some of the women participating in Saturday’s protest criticized recent anti-Taliban protests, insisting that women should be in line with the Taliban’s strict policy of requiring women to wear full body coverings.
A woman said anti-Taliban protesters joined rallies last week only to become famous in the West, according to a recording obtained by the New York Times.
She acknowledged that these women occupy important roles in society, including doctors and teachers, but said they do not represent all women in Afghanistan.
After the women walked out of the hall, they marched short, chanting pro-Taliban chants, and waving banners, including several in English that read “Women who left Afghanistan cannot represent us” and “Our rights are safeguarded in Islam.”
Taliban fighters cleared traffic so chartered buses could pick up the women from the university grounds.
Even before the Taliban’s return to power, Afghanistan was near the bottom of every list when it came to protecting women, and at the top in terms of the need for shelters, advice and courts that could help keep women safe.
However, after 20 years of Western support, girls and women made up about 40 percent of all students in the country. Women joined army and police, And hold a political position. some They became internationally recognized singersAnd Compete in the Olympics And In robotics teamsAnd mountain climbing and more—all things that were nearly impossible at the turn of the century.
Understand the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations, and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here is more about The story of their origin and record as rulers.
But many of these women, not seeing a future for themselves, fled the country. A women’s soccer team from Herat made its way to Italy, five members of the Afghan girls’ robotic team Landed in Mexico, And Zarifa Ghafari، Meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Ms. Ghafari expressed her dissatisfaction with the pictures of women at Kabul University on Saturday. “This is not our culture!” she wrote on Twitter. “Afghan women are not part of extremism, don’t make them savages, don’t impose ISIS culture on us!”
When Taliban Leaders in the West announced their interim government on Tuesday, noting that it had failed to deliver on its promises that the group would be more inclusive of Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic groups and religious minorities. It was also made up entirely of men, breaking another pledge Taliban leaders.
Hours before the proxy government was announced, hundreds of Afghans, including women, took to the streets to peacefully demand respect for their rights under their new leaders. Taliban fighters used rifle butts and sticks to violently break up the protest, causing the participants to flee.
Wednesday, Afghan journalists They were arrested and violently attacked for covering a demonstration in Kabul. The butts of both journalists showed bruises and cuts caused by repeated flogging with cables, sparking an international outcry.
Sami Sahak and Wali Arian contributed to the preparation of the report