As Taliban mark six months of rule in Afghanistan, women move protests online

Despite disappearance of prominent activists, women vow to fight on

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Afghan women are continuing to defy the Taliban, taking protests indoors as a crackdown on female protesters in Kabul has forced many activists into hiding.

At least eight women activists, including Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parwana Ibrahimkhel, were captured in night raids on their homes by armed militants claiming to be Taliban.

The Taliban at first denied knowledge of the missing women, who had taken to the streets regularly since the August 15 takeover, but they were released last weekend after nearly a month in custody.

On Saturday, another 29 women and their families were detained by the Taliban, Rina Amiri, US special envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights, said in a now-deleted tweet.

Since taking over, the Taliban has effectively barred women from public spaces, leading to thousands of job losses.

The group has limited girls’ education and movement, with the Taliban imposing a strict dress code and requirement of male guardian for those leaving their homes.

Women hold hands at an indoor protest. S Hamidi

But all is not lost, say women desperate for the world to hear their message against the group.

Within days of last month's crackdown, Ms Hamidi, whose first name cannot be revealed for her safety, called on fellow activists to assemble in an undisclosed location for an indoor protest which would be filmed and posted online.

“After members of our womens' protests were detained in the middle of the night, we were concerned about the security of all our memberssaid Ms Hamidi, 22.

"Many received threatening calls and some were even beaten on the street by unknown men. They want to silence us, but instead we decided to move our protests indoors."

Please come and defend your rights. We shed our blood for you and we are shouting in the streets of Kabul and inside her homes. Join us
Ms Hamidi

Many women responded to her call. Inside the relative safety of their homes, the women get together to discuss their basic demands — employment, food and freedom.

As the environment of fear lingers, some women cover their faces with masks, while others brave the cameras as they document their protest to be distributed on social networks and to local media.

In the most recent of these protests, Ms Hamidi and a few other women gathered in a small apartment and set their diplomas on fire.

They were protesting against the recent string of employment decisions made by the Taliban to hire former fighters who have no qualifications for government jobs.

“We burned our diplomas to show the world that the educated have no place in Afghanistan and the Taliban regime,” Ms Hamidi said.

The protesting women also held posters with the message: "Our qualifications are no longer useful."

Afghan women march on the streets before January's crackdown. AFP

“There are no longer any needs for qualifications or experiences, and having been part of the Taliban’s jihad is enough to get a job,” she said.

Another protester, identified only as Ms Amiri, said the protest was the latest iteration of a long-running movement against the Taliban.

“We have been fighting for our identity and rights since before the takeover," Ms Amiri said.

"For the last 20 years, we have raised our voices for right to education, work and humanity. So it is natural that we will keep fighting even from within the confines of our homes."

The response has largely been positive, the women say.

“There are lot of encouraging comments to this post and the few negative comments we get, we engage with them in civil way. But if they get abusive we block them,” Ms Hamidi said.

She said another good thing about being online was that it could include women who were not permitted to join them on the streets.

Ms Amiri said that as a group who lost the most, women were driven to fight the hardest.

“When the republic fell, every Afghan citizen lost their rights to some extent," she said. "But for women, our identity has threatened.

"Take, for example, the only ministry the Taliban closed was the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

“History has proven that only way to change the social-political dynamics are through civilised protests and demonstration. And we need to keep them going to be able to see results."

Both women urged more solidarity among Afghan citizens.

“Please come and defend your rights. We shed our blood for you and we are shouting in the streets of Kabul and inside her homes. Join us,” Ms Hamidi appealed.

Ms Amiri said: “I wish a million other Afghans who have been affected would join us in the fight for their civil rights.

"The people of Afghanistan need understand the power of their voices. If a group of 25 women with posters can instil so much fear in the Taliban, imagine what a million others can do."

Updated: February 15, 2022, 9:06 AM