Taliban fighters beaten female protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare demonstration in the Afghan capital, days before the first anniversary of the return of the hardline Islamists to power.
Since the Taliban took power on August 15 last year, they have reversed the marginal gains made by women during two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women – chanting three words: “bread, work and freedom” – marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their rifles into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some female protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner that read “August 15 is a black day” while demanding rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’ve had enough of ignorance,” they chanted, many without face veils.
“Unfortunately, the Taliban came from the intelligence service and fired into the air,” said Zholia Parsi, one of the organizers of the march.
“They scattered the girls, tore our banners and confiscated many girls’ cell phones.” Some journalists covering the protest – the first women’s rally in months – were also defeated by Taliban fighters, an AFP correspondent noted.
After taking power last year, the Taliban pledged a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed, especially on women, to conform to the movement’s strict view of Islam.
Tens of thousands of girls have been excluded from secondary schools, while women have been denied access to many government jobs.
Women are also not allowed to travel alone on long journeys and are only allowed to visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separated from men.
In May, the Supreme Leader and Leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, ordered women to cover themselves completely, including their faces, in public, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
The United Nations and human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized the Taliban government for imposing restrictions on women.
This policy shows a “pattern of absolute gender segregation and aims to make women invisible in society,” Richard Bennett, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul during a visit in May.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs and held small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.