Two years ago, on Aug. 15, 2021, the Taliban marched into Kabul and everything changed.
Extreme modesty rules were imposed. Beauty salons were shuttered. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was dismantled. A male chaperone to escort women whenever they left their homes became mandatory. A decree banned Afghan women from working for NGOs. The Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice was resurrected.
Two years after their takeover of Afghanistan, through more than 50 edicts, orders, and restrictions, the Taliban have set about systematically erasing women and girls from public life, denying them their most basic human rights in what amounts to what some experts are calling “gender apartheid.” This extreme level of gender-based discrimination against women and girls, perpetrated with total impunity, is unparalleled globally.
In the words of human rights and education activist Pashtana Durrani: “The women of Afghanistan are being held hostage by 70,000 men with guns.”
In addition to women’s rights, the fundamentalist regime continues to violate other human rights. “Arbitrary arrests, torture, public punishment, injustice, and violence continue to be committed by the Taliban with zero accountability,” writes Wahida Amiri, a member of the Spontaneous Movement of Afghan Women.
Afghanistan is facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Nearly 20 million people are acutely food insecure. The polio virus continues to spread. At the start of the year, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that a staggering 28.3 million people (two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population) would need urgent humanitarian assistance in order to survive, as the country entered its third consecutive year of drought-like conditions and the second year of crippling economic decline, while still reeling from the effects of 40 years of conflict and recurrent natural disasters.
It is within this context that, according to the UN Human Rights Office, domestic violence, forced and child marriage, sale of children and body organs, child labor, trafficking, and unsafe migration have all increased.
Yet, since day one, the Taliban’s system of oppression has been met with fearless resilience from Afghan women and girls who continue to protest, resist, and speak up. Here are six ways they continue to demonstrate their acts of resistance.
1. Afghan girls are attending secret schools.
Afghan girls and young women are banned from continuing their education beyond primary school (ages 11-12). But, undeterred, women such as Afghan activist and human rights defender, Pashtana Durrani, continue to provide education for hundreds of girls in Afghanistan who are desperate to learn despite the current ban on them attending school.
Durrani’s organization, LEARN Afghanistan, offers courses conducted online, with many taking place in rooms with computers hooked up to generators, all in secret locations to avoid Taliban detection.
"I get more than 10 messages on social media every day asking about courses for girls. Since the university ban, I have been getting another dozen requests for starting university-level online courses," she said.
2. Afghan women journalists continue to report.
The availability of news and information in Afghanistan has shrunk dramatically since the Taliban takeover. More than half of the 547 media outlets that were registered in 2021 have since disappeared. Of more than 90 printed newspapers produced before Aug. 15 2021, only 11 remain.
“Censorship and self-censorship have become rampant,” says Ahmad Shoaib Fana, chief executive of the Afghan National Journalists’ Union, “with journalists navigating the perilous territory of permissible content.”
Faced by the relentless harassment of media personnel, many journalists have fled the country.
Despite this, female Afghan journalists are continuing to report, sometimes from abroad. Journalist Salma Niazi, for example, has founded an all-women online media outlet — called The Afghan Times — that focuses on human rights and women's issues.
3. Afghan women refuse to be spoken for.
When, in July of this year, a rare meeting between US officials and Taliban representatives took place in Doha, Qatar, over 60 coalitions and networks wrote an open letter to express their deep concern about these meetings intended for “confidence building in support of the Afghan people” — not least because they took place without engaging with Afghan women or civil society at all.
In today’s Afghanistan women & youth will not let anyone make assumptions about their demands. More than 60 organizations & networks have sent an open letter to @SecBlinken asking specific questions about US officials meeting with the Taliban. pic.twitter.com/uiGyi8kiO8— Nargis Nehan (@NehanNargis) August 4, 2023
A group of Afghan women even braved the risk of a harsh response from Taliban security forces and took to the streets of Kabul to strongly criticize discussions they believe could lead to new levels of recognition for the Taliban.
4. Women take to the streets to protest.
Despite being faced with tear gas, electric shocks, bullets, and arrest, women in Afghanistan have continued to take to the streets to call out the Taliban’s rule by terror.
Wahida Amiri recalls marching on the streets: “The Taliban brought dozens of military forces onto the streets and used violence against us. They beat us, used tear gas, fired shots in the air, gave us electric shocks, and arbitrarily detained us. The Taliban shouted at us to be silent, aimed their gun at us, threatened us with death and asked: ‘How much money has been given to you Western bitches for creating this riot?’ We froze with fear, but I asked the protestors not to get frightened. We continued our protest by sitting on the ground.”
Most recently, on July 19, women gathered in the capital city, Kabul, to shout "work, bread, and justice," after the Taliban ordered beauty salons to close.
Since their takeover of the country, the Taliban has unleashed a systematic assault on civic space, a space which is now categorized as “closed” according to civic space monitoring tracker, CIVICUS.
Civil society organizations have been targeted for their work with scores of stories of harassment, intimidation, and violence. Meanwhile, human rights defenders including Zarifa Yaqobi, Farhat Popalzai, Parisa Mobarez, Habiba Sharifi, and Matiullah Wesa have all been arbitrarily arrested and detained over the last two years.
5. Afghan activist confronts Taliban spokesperson.
Earlier this year, Mahbouba Seraj, a fearless 74-year-old Afghan activist and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee walked into the Taliban’s presidential palace to demand that girls be allowed back into schools.
“For God’s sake,” Seraj said without mincing her words, “please open the girls’ schools.”
6. Farhat Popalzai started a movement.
Taliban rule hasn’t stopped Afghan women from fighting for equality.
Human rights defender Farhat Popalzai is one of the founders of the Spontaneous Movement of Afghan Women.
Members of this group have published videos of women chanting slogans to overthrow the Taliban — and they’ve been very clear about their demands from the international community to prioritize the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and not make them victims of political expediency.
جنبش خودجوش زنان معترض افغانستان در ادامه اعتراضها در مکانهای سربسته، ویدیوهای از زنانی منتشر کرده که شعار میدهند: از خانه تا خیابان، از منطقه تا جهان، برای سرنگونی طالبان— افغانستان اینترنشنال (@AFIntlBrk) January 16, 2023
این زنان که روی دستان خود نوشتهاند «طالبان را تحریم کنید» میگویند زنان افغانستان، طالبان را نمیخواهند pic.twitter.com/7IDLOMsX5b