Afghan women concerned about the Taliban’s first measures

Despite their promises of a “moderate” government, the Taliban announced the first measures on women’s rights on Wednesday, a day after announcing their rule.

Among them, the end of mixed classes in universities and the prohibition of sport for Afghan women. Many took to the streets to denounce the worrying measures, but were met with violent repression.

Shouting “Freedom, freedom” and “Resistance,” anti-Taliban protesters took to the streets of several Afghan cities once again on September 8, as they had sporadically since the group came to power on August 15. There were activists on the front lines, but also dozens of Afghan women demanding the preservation of their rights and freedom.

The day before, the Taliban announced their interim government. And despite promises of an “inclusive” cabinet, no women were included on the list. “When the government was announced, things were clear: women will not be present in politics and there will be no tolerance,” a Kabul protester told F24.

‘They can’t erase us from society’

“We are in the streets to maintain our basic rights: the right to education, work and political participation. We want the Taliban to understand that they cannot erase us from society,” said a young woman from Kabul after a few days. previously, according to the NGO Human Rights Watch.

Since returning to power, the Taliban have tried to show a more tolerant face to the world. However, many women fear a return to the past: under the first Taliban government (1996-2001), they disappeared from public space, girls were denied education, women were not allowed to work or go out without a man. a member of your close family. They also had to wear a burqa that covered the entire body.

“Most of these protesters are students, women in their twenties who did not experience the previous Taliban regime and who reject the idea of ​​going back to it,” Mahbouba Seraj, a Kabul-based activist, told FRANCE 24.

“These young people do not really understand the terror of the Taliban. They are showing a lot of courage by daring to challenge them, but above all they have the will to show that they do not want to become second-class citizens,” Jean said. -Charles Jauffret, emeritus professor of contemporary history at Sciences-Po Aix, told FRANCE 24.

Drawing the curtains in the universities

Concern has only grown since the return of the Taliban and, in fact, Islamists have already announced various restrictions against women. On September 5, the eve of the reopening of private universities, they published a decree on female university students.

Students from all over Afghanistan have started to return to college for the first time since the Taliban took power, and in some cases, women have been separated from their male peers by curtains or tables in the middle of the classroom https: // t.co/evBeUMDynp pic.twitter.com/5H9guTycbZ

– Reuters (@Reuters) September 7, 2021

In order to attend classes, women will now have to wear an abaya, a veil that covers the entire body, as well as a niqab, which only lets the eyes see.

In addition, the mixed classrooms will now be divided by a curtain, with women on one side and men on the other, as widely shared images on social media have shown. At the end of each class, the students have to wait for the men to leave the room before leaving.

As for the professors, “the universities are obliged to hire female professors according to their facilities,” the decree said. If it is not possible to recruit female teachers, then colleges and universities “should try to recruit male teachers who have a good behavioral record.”

“All of these rules are designed to discourage [women] to enroll in college, “says Jean-Charles Jauffret.

Protest in favor of the Taliban

But on Saturday, some 300 Afghan women demonstrated near Kabul University, pledging their commitment to the Taliban’s gender segregation policies, all wearing full veils in accordance with the strict new dress-for-education policies. They waved Taliban flags as speakers criticized the West and expressed support for Islamists’ policies on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks that triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Daud Haqqani, director of foreign affairs at the Ministry of Education, said the protest was organized by the women, who had asked for and obtained permission to demonstrate.

The pro-Taliban march took place days after the hardliners announced Wednesday that any gathering is now prohibited unless authorized in advance by the Justice Ministry … after violently cracking down on opposition demonstrations.

“We are against women protesting in the streets, claiming they are representative of women,” said one speaker, covered from head to toe. “Is it freedom to like the last government? No, it is not freedom. The last government was abusing women. They were recruiting women just because of their beauty.”

On Saturday, Afghan women wearing full-face veils sat in rows in a Kabul university lecture hall, pledging their commitment to the Taliban’s hardline policies on gender segregation https: // t .co / kPpslAOVmY

– AFP News Agency (@AFP) September 11, 2021

Confusion over the sports ban

On September 8, Ahmadullah Wasiq, an official with the Taliban cultural commission, announced that women will now be banned from playing sports. The reason given was that the athletes’ outfits would expose too much of their bodies.

“They may face a situation where their face and body are not covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this. It’s the media age, and there will be photos and videos, and then people will see it, ”Wasiq told Australia’s SBS News when asked about the country’s cricket team. “Islam and the Islamic Emirate do not allow women to play cricket or practice the kinds of sports in which they are exposed.”

In addition, several other similar problems remain unsolved. Among them, the right of women to go out in public without being accompanied by a man, or their freedom to work. “We are in complete limbo,” lamented Mahbouba Seraj.

“We get a lot of different stories, telling anything and everything. In some regions, the police banned women from going to work, but that’s not the case everywhere,” the activist added. “In reality, we feel that we are in an intermediate situation and we do not know what will really happen to our freedom.”

The Afghanistan Cricket Board also contributed to the confusion. Its president, Azizullah Fazli, has claimed that women would be allowed to play cricket, in an apparent reversal of the Taliban’s hard-line stance. “We will give them our clear position on how we will allow women to play cricket,” she told SBS Radio Pashto on Friday night. “Very soon, we will give you good news on how we will proceed.”

When the Taliban unveiled their interim government on Tuesday, they also announced the return of the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. During the organization’s first government, the institution was responsible for implementing a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Its officers patrolled the streets, forcing shops to close for prayer time, beating those who listened to loud music and forbidding girls to go to school. The return of the dreaded ministry has further shattered hopes for a tolerant government.

Any ‘insurgency will be hit hard’

While some women have decided to take the courage in both hands to challenge the Taliban, Mahbouba Seraj has decided to stay away from the demonstrations. At age 70, this longtime activist refuses to take part in the marches. “The young women who go out into the streets are full of courage, but they are also very naive,” he said. “I am not at all optimistic about our rights. But right now, I am especially afraid that these demonstrations will only lead to harsher repression and loss of life,” he said, and asked members of civil society “to coordinate and think about a movement that will have a real international impact. ”

Echoing the activist’s fears, the main spokesman for the hardline Islamists warned against any further attempts to rise up against his government: “Anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be severely beaten. We will not allow another,” Zabihullah Mujahid told a conference. press. in Kabul, after claiming victory over the Panjshir rebels on Monday.

All of which does not bode well for future women’s protests, unless, of course, they are pro-Taliban.

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