Threatened and beaten, Afghan women defy the Taliban with protests

KABUL, Afghanistan – On an early January morning, Khujasta Elham weathered a snowstorm to sign the government register.

Before the Taliban took power in August, Ms. Elham was the director of the women’s program for the Afghan Civil Service Commission. But she and most other female government employees were prevented from returning to work by the Taliban’s new Islamic Emirate.

Now, Ms Elham, who says she hasn’t been paid since August, is required to log on at her old workplace once a month – a fiction that allows the Taliban to deny they have fired. female government employee. The grim routines also dampened any hope for Miss Elham that she would one day return to work.

The dismissal of female workers is one of many outrages that have led small groups of women like Ms Elham to take to the streets to protest, at risk of beatings or arrest. Taliban gunmen pointed weapons at the protesters, sprayed them with tear gas, and called them “whores” and “puppets of the West.” Human Rights Watch speak. Bearing symbols and raising their fists, the women resisted persistent efforts to erase them from public life.

Protests rarely last. Activists say that Taliban enforcers have been rough with women, beating them and spraying them with chemical stimulants. Ms Elham and others said they had received threatening phone calls from intelligence officers, warning them to remain silent or face unspecified “consequences”.

“He asked me if I knew they had a prison for people like me,” Ms. Elham said of a Taliban intelligence officer who ordered her to end the protests she helped organize. .

As the Taliban continue to demand humanitarian aid and diplomatic recognition, the United States and other countries and international organizations have insisted that Afghanistan’s new rulers withdraw their limits on with women’s rights. The issue was at the heart of discussion this week as Taliban delegates began meeting international officials in Oslo, Norway.

Among the most significant consequences of the Taliban takeover was the rapid reversal of gains made by women two decades after the US-led invasion that toppled the previous Taliban government in 2014. 2001. Women attended schools and universities, and served in Parliament and government. They serve in the military, police forces and lawyers and judges.

Women used to make up at least a quarter of the government workforce. However, the Taliban only allows a small number of female health workers and educators to continue working in their government.

Most Afghan girls over sixth grade did not go to school since August. In September, the Taliban converted the Women’s Ministry building into an office for the religious ethics police. Last month, the Taliban banned long distance women have no male relatives and use public transport without a headscarf.

The Taliban have also targeted activists who oppose the restrictions. To avoid arrest, Ms Elham and other protesters said they cycled between safe houses and communicated only using encrypted phone apps.

Rokhshana Rezai, 27, a prominent activist, said she used to dress up as a man to pass through Taliban checkpoints after receiving threatening calls from Taliban officials. But she continued to participate in the protests. Video from a recent protest shows her defiantly pulling away from Talib, who grabbed her arm and tried to pull her away.

“We are getting more and more scared,” Ms. Rezai said. “They won’t respect our rights and dignity.”

Taliban officials say pre-approval is required to hold a rally. But when the women asked for permission, Ms. Rezai said, “They won’t and they never will.”

On January 19, three days after women protested against the hijab directive, two activists at gunpoint from their homes in Kabul, 28-year-old Zarifa Yaqoobi, leader of a group known as the so-called heads of state The Afghan Women’s Movement, said. Ms. Yaqoobi said the women’s family members told her the women were taken away at night by armed men.

Ms. Yaqoobi said family members have identified the activists as Tamana Zaryab Paryani and Parwana Ebrahim Khel. She said Ms. Paryani’s three older sisters had also disappeared. The New York Times tried to speak to the families directly but was unsuccessful.

A video posted on social media showed Ms Paryani screaming for help and shouting that the Taliban were banging on her door. The Taliban have publicly denied any involvement in the arrest of Ms. Paryani and others.

Qari Saeed Khosty, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said Ms Paryani’s video was fabricated “to create a case” to attract international attention.

“They are liars, and I don’t want to talk about it,” General Mubeen Khan, a police spokesman in Kabul, said of media reports about the disappearance. In a follow-up call, he told The Times: “Anyone who causes trouble in public must be arrested. An order has been passed to all the security forces to arrest them and bring them to justice. ”

The crackdown on women’s protests in Afghanistan has raised concerns among human rights groups. Human Rights Watch says it represents “a alarming and illegal escalated efforts to crack down on peaceful protests and free speech in Afghanistan. “The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has appealed to the Taliban Provide information about missing women.

Women’s rights activists and human rights groups have also called on the Taliban to provide information about the disappearance of Alia Azizi, a prison official in the western city of Herat. Ms. Azizi never came home from work on October 2.

Heather Barr, deputy director of women at Human Rights Watch, said the “extremely silent response” from the international community along with the crackdown in the Afghan media had encouraged the Taliban.

“This is an indication that the Taliban feel these protests need to be completely stopped, regardless of the level of brutality occurring,” she said.

The disappearances of two female activists were raised by an activist from Afghanistan at an inaugural conference in Oslo on Sunday between the Taliban, and representatives from the United States and European nations, the Associated Press reported. believe.

For the Taliban, the conference provides a platform to showcase their new Islamic Emirate that is less oppressive than the Taliban government of the 1990s. For the United States and European nations, the meeting opportunities to confront Taliban leaders face-to-face to demand improved human rights, an inclusive government, women’s rights and other reforms.

Afghan critics of the conference protested outside the Foreign Ministry in Oslo, saying the Taliban should not be given an international forum.

On January 23, Monisa Mubariz, co-founder of the Afghan Women’s Power Movement, and Ms. Yaqoobi held a brief, confidential press conference at their home inside a walled compound. They asked a small group of journalists attending not to stream the event live for fear of alarming the Taliban.

Under the Taliban, Ms. Mubariz told journalists, “Women were deprived of the right to work and to participate in political and economic life. They are constantly persecuted, illegally punished, insulted and humiliated.”

Such public criticism only increases the risk of Taliban retaliation, Yaqoobi admits. “That’s why we have to operate in secrecy,” she said. “But we will never stop speaking out.”

Days before the press conference, Ms. Mubariz spoke in the family section of a cafe, dedicated to women to keep them separate from men. Before the Taliban took over, some cafes in Kabul allowed women to sit and socialize with men – a silent symbol of progress that had gradually faded under the Taliban.

Ms. Mubariz said her parents and friends begged her to stop protesting – or at least put on armor to protect herself. She wiped away tears as she described the overwhelming sense of loss she’s felt since losing her job and seeing women’s rights stripped away.

For Ms. Rezai, the Taliban’s threats and repression have eroded her boundless faith in Afghanistan’s future.

“Regardless of the goals, freedoms, desires, dreams, choices, education, and jobs that women once had, they are gone,” she said. “I’m feeling angry – my body has no soul and all our dreams are now for nothing.” Threatened and beaten, Afghan women defy the Taliban with protests

Fry Electronics Team

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