Women’s rights in Afghanistan: wave of arrests

The Taliban are cracking down on women in Afghanistan. Anyone who protests is arrested, and access to education is further restricted.

Men and a boy at a ticket booth, a little girl looks at the camera

Amusement park in Kabul: now banned for women Photo: Ali Khara/Reuters

BERLIN taz | A new wave of reprisals is rolling through Afghanistan. Taliban security forces arrested activist Farhat Popalsai on Thursday. This is the sixth arrest in connection with a press conference last Thursday in the West Kabul district of Dasht-e Barchi, at which young Afghans announced the founding of a civilian opposition movement, the “Afghanistan Women’s Movement for Equality”. Popalsai managed their social media accounts.

Armed Taliban stormed the event just as those present had symbolically cut a green ribbon. They arrested a woman, Sarifa Jakubi, and four men.

Jakubi has been a leader in street protests in the Afghan capital several times. The last time that happened was on the Monday before, when unemployed former employees of government institutions gathered in a Kabul park to demonstrate for their right to work.

The Taliban dispersed the protest, prevented journalists from reporting it and took the reporters to a nearby police review, where they had to sign not to report on protests in the future.

Harsh Taliban response to organized women

It was similar after the press conference of Jakubi’s organization: According to Afghan exile media, participants were beaten and their mobile phones were taken. The next day they were supposed to pick up the cell phones with male relatives from a secret service office.

The UN mission in Afghanistan confirmed the incident and asked the Taliban authorities to clarify the whereabouts of those arrested. So far, however, the request has remained unanswered and the Taliban have so far not reported on these incidents.

The Taliban’s harsh reaction to this action probably has two reasons. On the one hand, this was the first time in the country that an organized group protesting against their regime had spoken out.

Second, the group is supported by a political party that has since moved out of exile, the Wave of Change movement, which was founded in Afghanistan in 2013 by then-MP Fausia Kufi. After the arrests, Kufi and the party claimed responsibility for the action and stated that Jakubi was a member of their leadership council. Kufi herself is not without controversy in her own ranks: Many women’s rights activists are at odds with her because she tends to go it alone without prior agreement.

Neither park nor auditorium

Already at the end of October moved to Kabul students, mothers and teachers in front of three schools to symbolically request admission. They carried signs with the trending social media slogan “Lessons Without Fear” (dars bedun-e tars), which dates back to a call by exiled Afghan singer Farhad Darja.

In Faisabad, capital of the north-eastern province of Badakhshan, female students protested that the Taliban morality police Amr bi-l-Maruf denied some of them access to the campus because they wore Covid masks instead of the mandatory face veil.

The Taliban then struck back. As of Thursday, women are no longer allowed to visit gyms and public parks. The latter was previously limited to one day per week. They justified the new ban by saying that women and men still visited parks together. There were no exceptions for families.

In mid-October it became known that the Taliban were responsible for female students have limited the fields of study to choose from. According to a BBC research, the faculties of agriculture, veterinary medicine, engineering and business are closed to them nationwide. Journalism is only offered to women at a few universities like in Kabul.

Only the subjects of medicine and nursing, teaching and Islamic studies are still open to female students everywhere. A spokesman for the Taliban Ministry of Higher Education said the universities could decide on the offer themselves.

The opposition online newspaper Hasht-e Sobh however, citing a source in the ministry, reported that in October a delegation went to the provinces and instructed the universities in this regard.

Now there are even – so far unconfirmed – rumors that the Taliban want to close the universities for women in general after the current semester.

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