Taliban spread Afghan women’s march for ‘work and freedom’ | News

Taliban fighters beat female protesters and fired into the air on Saturday to disperse a rare demonstration in the Afghan capital, Kabul, days before the first anniversary of the group’s return to power.

About 40 women marched to the Ministry of Education in Kabul chanting ‘bread, work and freedom’. Despite the pledges made in retaking power, the Taliban have restricted Afghan women’s rights, including keeping high school students out of school.

Some protesters seeking refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts, according to the AFP news agency.

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.”

But protester Munisa Mubariz promised to continue fighting for women’s rights.

“If the Taliban want to silence this voice, it is not possible. We will protest from our homes,” she said.

Some journalists covering the demonstration – the first women’s rally in months – were also beaten by the Taliban fighters, an AFP correspondent noted.

‘Making women invisible’

Although the Taliban authorities have allowed and even promoted some demonstrations against the United States, they have refused permission for women’s gatherings since they returned to power.

After the Taliban took control last year, it has reneged on their promises of women’s rights and media freedom and recalls their harsh rule from 1996 to 2001.

Tens of thousands of girls have been excluded from secondary schools, while women have been denied access to many government jobs.

Taliban fighters disperse Afghan female protesters in Kabul.
Taliban fighters try to disperse Afghan female protesters in Kabul [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

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 certain days, when men are not allowed.

In May, the Taliban’s Supreme Leader and Leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada, 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.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday called on the Taliban to reverse “their horrific and misogynistic” decision to bar women from education.

“This would be a signal that the Taliban are ready to reconsider their most egregious actions,” Fereshta Abbasi, an Afghanistan researcher with the rights group, said in a statement.

Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs and held small protests.

But the Taliban soon arrested the organizers of the protests, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.

A study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) this year documented a disproportionate decline in women’s employment in Afghanistan – 16 percent in the months immediately following the Taliban takeover. By contrast, male employment fell by 6 percent.

Taliban fighters fire into the air to disperse Afghan female protesters in Kabul.
Taliban fighters fire into the air [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Before the Taliban takeover, women made up 22 percent of the Afghan workforce. While the figure was still dismal, it reflected years of social progress in a deeply patriarchal and conservative society like Afghanistan.

Working women in Afghanistan are also vulnerable to unemployment shocks due to the existing economic crisis, restrictions on women’s movements by the Taliban and the ruling patriarchy.

While the Afghan economy has been hit hard by Western sanctions against the Taliban, women-oriented businesses have been hit hardest by the additional restrictions on women.

A recent World Bank survey found that 42 percent of women-owned businesses in Afghanistan were temporarily closed, compared with the closure of 26 percent of men-owned businesses.

In addition, about 83 percent of business women said they expected revenue losses in the next six months, forcing them to cope with mechanisms such as downsizing their workforce, which is often largely female.

Journalism bleeds to death

Numerous media outlets have gone out of business and hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs in the past year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

“Journalism in Afghanistan is bleeding to death,” RSF director Christian Mihr said in a statement on Friday.

“The Taliban have enacted numerous laws restricting press freedom and encouraging the persecution and intimidation of media and journalists,” she added.

According to RSF, more than a third of the 550 media operating on August 15, 2021 — the day the Taliban took control after more than 20 years — were shut down.

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