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Groups of Afghan women brave Taliban-controlled streets to demand rights

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A small group of Afghan women protested near the presidential palace in Kabul a day after women in the western Afghan city of Herat took to the streets in daring public demonstrations against Taliban restrictions on their right to work and seek education.

Around 20 women with microphones gathered in the heart of Kabul on Friday under the watchful eyes of Taliban gunmen, who allowed the demonstration to proceed. The protest in the Afghan capital was the second women’s protest in as many days, with the other held in Afghanistan’s largest western city, Herat.

Gathering near the Arg presidential palace, the women demanded access to education, the right to return to work and a role in governing the country. “Freedom is our motto. It makes us proud,” read one of their signs.

A Taliban fighter ventured into the crowd at one point, but witnesses said he was angry at the bystanders who had stopped to watch the demonstration and not the protesters themselves.

Top Taliban leaders have promised an inclusive government and a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. But as the country awaits the formation of a new government, Taliban spokesmen in recent days have admitted women are unlikely to get cabinet posts or positions of authority in the new administration.

Many Afghans remain deeply skeptical about the Taliban’s promises on gender rights and fear a rollback of the considerable gains women made over the past two decades.

On Thursday, a small group of women marched toward the office of the governor of Herat, to demand equal rights and opportunities.

“No government is stable without the support of women,” read one banner, referring to fears that the new government is unlikely to include women in leadership positions.

“Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid,” the women chanted, as Taliban fighters watched, in videos shared on social media. “We are together.”

UN says women’s rights ‘imperative’

“We are concerned about the issues of human rights in Afghanistan, notably on the rights of women,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday. “It is imperative that women have the right to work, to work in a safe environment, and those are some of the issues that have been brought to the attention of our interlocutors in Kabul and elsewhere.”

While the Taliban have said women will be able to continue their education and work, they have also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic, law. 

Afghan women’s rights activists say they are still seeking clarity on the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law. Meanwhile, many Afghan activists have called for the international community not to grant the Taliban official recognition, which would unblock Afghanistan’s frozen bank accounts, amid fears the hardline Islamist group would crack down on women’s rights once the world’ attention has moved away.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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