Afghan women activists gathered in front of Kabul University this past Sunday, January 16, demanding their rights and justice over the fatal shooting of Zainab Abdullahi at a Taliban checkpoint, the disappearance of Herat women’s prison manager Alia Azizi, as well as the alleged torture of women protesters in Mazar-e-Sharif, the fourth largest city in Afghanistan. Both women were Hazaras, a minority ethnic group that has been targeted by the Taliban.
The protestors chanted “equality and justice” and carried banners that read “women’s rights, human rights.” The protest was soon ended by the Taliban fighters who harassed and pepper-sprayed the women protesters.
“When we were near Kabul University three Taliban vehicles came, and fighters from one of the vehicles used pepper spray on us,” said one woman, who asked not to be named for security reasons. “My right eye started to burn. I told one of them: ‘Shame on you,’ and then he pointed his gun at me.” One of the women was taken to hospital after the spray caused an allergic reaction in her eyes and face. Journalists were also asked to leave the scene and a man’s mobile phone was taken by the Taliban because he was filming the demonstration.
Sunday’s protest followed last week’s protest when a group of women took to streets of Kabul to rally against new restrictions imposed on them by the Ministry of Virtue and Vice after the Taliban installed posters in some parts of Kabul demanding women wear burqa or niqab and not allowing women to travel long distances without a male guardian. Videos shared on social media also show that women are writing slogans on Kabul walls at night to show their refusal to obey and their defiance of the Taliban’s forced restrictions.
“….I am a woman and I am mahram to myself,” said Shabana Shabdiz, a protester. Mahram refers to a close male family member, for example a husband, father, brother, or uncle, whom a woman is not obligated to cover up around.
“In this march, we ask for our rights to education and employment from the current rulers,” said Shahla Arifi, a protester. The women also urged the world not to remain silent about the Taliban, especially when it comes to women and their basic human rights. Since the collapse of the Afghan government in August 2021, Taliban authorities have removed women and girls from public employment and public universities. Women are no longer allowed to pursue an education post-elementary school.