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Brave Afghan women protest for their rights on Kabul streets while surrounded by Taliban fighters

Although the Taliban vows to respect women's rights, many Afghans remain skeptical given the traumatizing memories from the Taliban's previous rule.

Brave Afghan women protest for their rights on Kabul streets while surrounded by Taliban fighters
Cover Image Source: Twitter/AlinejadMasih

Even as thousands of Afghans flee the country to evade possible persecution by the Taliban, the militant group has been busy pushing a publicity blitz campaign aimed at reassuring world powers and the nation's terrified population. Seeking to portray themselves as more moderate than when they last ruled Afghanistan—between 1996 and 2001—and imposed a strict form of Islamic rule, the Taliban vowed Tuesday to respect women's rights and forgive those who fought them. However, despite these vague assurances, many Afghans remain skeptical.

Older generations still have traumatizing memories of the Taliban's previous rule, when they closed girls' schools, banned women from working, and largely confined them to their homes. Television and music were banned across the regions controlled by the group at the time and those caught violating these extremist rules were publicly executed.



According to AP, the restrictions on women eased after a U.S.-led invasion drove the Taliban from power in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Even as war raged across the country, a local commitment to improving women's rights drove the effort to create new legal protections, including the Elimination of Violence Against Women law which criminalized rape, battery, and forced marriage and made it illegal to stop women or girls from working or studying. Now, the series of recent Taliban victories over dozens of provincial capitals have taken Afghan women right back to a past they desperately wanted to leave behind.



While a shocked world population expressed concern for the fate of Afghan women in the days to come, a group of brave women wearing Islamic headscarves was seen briefly demonstrating against the Taliban in Kabul. In videos now going viral on social media, the women were seen holding signs demanding the that Taliban not "eliminate women" from public life, while surrounded by Taliban militants. Sharing one such video on Twitter, journalist Masih Alinejad wrote: "These brave women took to the streets in Kabul to protest against Taliban. They [are simply] asking for their rights, the right to work, the right for education, and the right to political participation. The right to live in a safe society. I hope more women and men join them."



Online responses to videos of the demonstration wavered between concern for the women's safety and admiration for their courage. "This is very brave. There is no way for women to prioritize their safety in this situation. They know what is coming. The ONLY way to improve their situation is to resist," tweeted @InevCalamity. "This is the only way to rebuild Afghanistan- women & men rise up - roll up your sleeves and get to work. The new Taliban is aware that the world is watching them & will likely not make the mistakes of the past," wrote Anila Ali.





At a news conference, Zabihullah Mujahid—the Taliban's longtime spokesman—promised that the Taliban would honor women's rights within the norms of Islamic law. However, he did not elaborate on what this means for Afghan women, what form the group's proposed "Afghan inclusive Islamic government" will take, or whether the new leadership will include women. Speaking to CNN, Farzana Kochai, who was serving as a member of the Afghan Parliament, said she doesn't know what comes next. "There has been no clear announcement about the form of the government in the future -- do we have a parliament in the future government or not?" she said.



Expressing concern about her future freedoms as a woman, Kochai added: "This is something that concerns me more. Every woman is thinking about this. We are just trying to have a clue... would women be allowed to work and to occupy a job or not?" Pashtana Durrani, the founder and executive director of Learn, a nonprofit focused on education and women's rights, shared similar fears. "I have cried so much there are no more tears left in my eyes to mourn. We have been in mourning the fall of Afghanistan for now quite some time. So I'm not feeling very well. On the contrary, I'm feeling very hopeless," she said.



Durrani revealed that she'd received text messages from children, who despaired that years of study were "all for nothing." She pointed out that although the Taliban kept talking about girls' education, they hadn't defined what that meant. Islamic studies are assumed, but "what about gender education? What about professional education?" she asked. "If you think about it, it makes you hopeless because there's no answer for it."

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