At Gunpoint, Afghan Women Protest in Front of The Taliban: “A Cabinet Without Women Is a Loser”

At grave risks to their lives, Afghan women have held protests for days to stand against the new all-male Taliban government. The Taliban are responding violently.

On Wednesday, hours after the Taliban violently disrupted at gunpoint a women’s protest in Kabul, the group announced their provisional government—which does not include a single women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs also did not appear on their list of ministries, leading many to believe it will be abolished. (A new ministry was added to the list: the Ministry of Virtue and Vice, a group notorious for enforcing their edicts on Afghan people during Taliban rule in the ’90s.)

Since the Taliban takeover of the government, the Taliban have announced that women cannot work in high-ranking posts in the new government; women civil servants have been ordered to stay home until further notice; and co-education has been banned in public and private universities. The universities opened on Tuesday with classes segregated by gender.

Just like in the ’90s, live music is banned throughout the country once again. Under Taliban rule, Afghan women are also banned from playing sports; Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, said sports for women are “not necessary. … They might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this.”

Despite the fluid and uncertain situation and at grave risks to their lives, Afghan women have held protests and marches for several days starting in Herat and Kabul, and extending to Mazar-e-Sharif in the north. Afghan women are demanding their equal rights be preserved and the achievements of the past 20 years be built upon. Without women’s meaningful participation, they say, the government cannot function.

Protesters chant “freedom” and “death to the Taliban”:

On Wednesday, another massive protest was held in Kabul against Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan after the head of Pakistani intelligence agency visited Kabul to meet with the Taliban leadership. According to different accounts of individuals from the protest, thousands of women demonstrated. Some Afghan men joined the march to the embassy of Pakistan as well. Heavily armed Taliban broke up the demonstration by shooting their guns into the air.

Similarly in Kabul, as women marched towards the presidential palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on September 4, the Taliban fired their guns into the air, used tear gas and beat up the protesters, injuring one on her forehead.

One woman at Wednesday’s protest told CNN: “We have gathered here to protest the recent announcement of the government where there are no women representation within this government. … Why should we accept the Emirate while no inclusion or rights have been given to us?” She held a poster that read: “A cabinet without women is a loser, a loser.”

Other women shared videos in which women were prevented by the Taliban to join in on protests. They were guarded at a parking lot by the Taliban.

Unlike the 1990s, the Taliban faces a resolute, better connected and more informed public—especially the women, many of whom are determined to continue to fight for their rights. On September 4, in one of the first protests, Taliban whipped and lashed women with an electric cord as they were marching on the streets of Kabul, demanding representation and equal rights. The next day the women were out marching again. The barbarity of Taliban suppression of protests—flogging people in public using whips and sticks, utilizing weapons and tear gas to break up large groups—appears to be the same as it was in the 1990s.

Afghan men and women, as well as those outside the country, have been amazed at the courage of Afghan women protesting in the face of heavily armed Taliban forces. Many social media accounts applaud the bravery of Afghan women for standing up for their rights at a time when they are told to stay put in their homes.

While life remains uncertain and difficult for all Afghans, especially women as they once again fight for their existence, it is clear for now that Afghan women are determined, on their own, to continue their fight to march forward and not go back to a time when they were confined to their homes, with no rights to education, employment or political representation.

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Makhfi Azizi is the director of the Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She has been working with the foundation in this capacity for two years and works on issues of human rights, peace and security. Makhfi is dedicated to women’s equality, peace and democracy.