Women in Afghanistan have taken to the streets in growing numbers as an act of defiance against the increasing Taliban control in the country. These Afghan women marched with assault rifles and shared pictures of themselves on social media calling on the attention of both national and international media.
These demonstrations took place in northern and central Afghanistan with central Ghor province witnessing one of the biggest marches with hundreds of women chanting anti-Taliban slogans.
The past few weeks have been particularly difficult for the country with the U.S. troop withdrawal and the Taliban taking over dozens of districts including the ones that were not under their control 20 years ago. These areas that are under the Taliban control are already witnessing restrictions on women’s education, their freedom of movement and clothing. Last week, the Taliban issued a new set of rules in recently captured districts of Afghan Takhar province which included forbidding women from leaving home without a male relative and forcing men to grow beards as reported by India Times.
The plight of women under Taliban rule has been an area of concern for many human rights activists. Heather Barr, a Human Rights Watch senior researcher for women’s rights in Asia tweeted about the ‘flood of desperate messages and calls from high-profile Afghan women fearing for their lives and the lives of their families’. The past decades saw a lot of Afghan women stepping in leadership roles as activists, journalists and teachers working towards gender equity and a brighter future for women and girls in the country. With the Taliban regaining power, these women are now facing threats and forced to close down schools and colleges. There is growing concern for the safety of women who were the face of this progress. Barr said that she did not find the recent Taliban crackdown surprising and that ‘the current Taliban policies are not that different from what they were in 2001’.
In order to protect women who are and can be potentially under threat, the Biden administration is considering offering an expedited visa path, Reuters reported. This may not be enough to address ongoing and future concerns of girls dropping out or banned from schools affecting the already declining rate of education. According to World Bank data, Afghanistan saw a peak in school attendance for girls in first grade at 65% in 2011. This number started declining by 2015, increasing the disparity in the literacy rate between the genders. Currently, there are about 3.7 million Afghan children out of school and 60% of them are girls, as reported by UNICEF.
While the Taliban has made claims that they have reformed their ways of the past and will have a different approach going forward, there is lack of clarity on these ‘transformations’. Sima Samar, the former chair of Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission, just like Barr, is skeptical about the change in Taliban’s policies and is particularly concerned about their ‘mindset on women’s rights’.
Afghan women continue to pick up guns for their rights and the recent protests may only be the beginning of a long fight. The withdrawal of the U.S. along with closure of some embassies, declining foreign funding and the pandemic is only going to add on to the obstacles to their cause.
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.