Afghan women stage rights protest a day after Taliban leader's remark

Afghan women hold placards as they take part in a protest in Herat on Sept 2, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

HERAT, Afghanistan (NYTIMES) - Dozens of women gathered on the streets of Herat, a city in western Afghanistan, on Thursday (Sept 2), protesting against the Taliban and demanding more rights and inclusion in a new future government that may be announced as soon as Friday.

"Don't be afraid," the women chanted as they marched toward the governor's office, holding signs. "We are all together."

The city of Herat is one of the country's most liberal, and thousands of young women there attended universities and worked outside their homes before the insurgents' victory two weeks ago.

While the Taliban have maintained that they support women's rights, many remain sceptical. The last time the group ran the country, women were banned from education, most work and nearly all aspects of public life.

"We wanted to show our power to the Taliban," said Maryam, an organiser of the protest. "If we stay in our houses, we can't show our power but the Taliban can impose more restrictions on us to remove us from society and politics slowly."

The protest in Herat comes one day after Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, a Taliban leader, told the BBC's Persian service that women will have no ministerial position in the Taliban government.

"The goal of the protest was to tell the Taliban to include women in the government and that no government can last without their presence," said Basira, a human-rights activist and principal who helped organise the protest. "We won't be silent anymore."

She said that the group of women would continue to fight and hoped the protests would force the Taliban to accept their demands.

"We will stand for our rights to the death," she said.

The protesters walked in the streets, chanting slogans and holding signs.

"Education, work and security are our - inalienable rights," a sign held by a protester read.

Speaking from Herat, the organisers said they were planning to expand the protests into all 34 provinces across the country.

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Small groups of young women and men have protested against the Taliban across Afghanistan, including in the capital Kabul, since the group seized control of the country. But the protest in Herat seemed different, because larger numbers of women took part in it and the message it delivered was more clear: The Taliban should allow all working women to return to work.

The Taliban have so far asked only female health workers to return to work. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's top spokesperson, said the decision not to allow other women to start working is "temporary".

He promised that all women would be able to return to their offices once the Taliban trains its fighters to respect women.

The protesters called on the Taliban to allow all women to return to work "immediately".

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