by AnonymousFebruary 08, 2024
The Taliban takeover on August 15, 2021, was a huge setback for civil liberties and the young democracy in Afghanistan. The takeover was a tragedy for all Afghans, women in particular. Within weeks, the Taliban banned girls’ education beyond the sixth grade (11-12 years old) and imposed restrictions on women’s work in the public and private sectors. With half of the country’s population deprived of education and work, that means more than 20 million Afghans are deprived of their basic human rights.
Through my recent work, I have spoken with some of the female protesters in Kabul and Mazar Sharif. While the female protesters know the risks associated with speaking to international contacts, they told me they are ready to make whatever sacrifice it takes to have their voices heard.
Their resistance notably involves indoor protest—a nonviolent method not yet formally documented and categorized—captured on camera, often strategically planned to coincide with important occasions like the anniversary of the Taliban takeover, International Women’s Day, International Peace Day and so on. The female protesters then share the photos and video footage with the Afghan diaspora and other international contacts for further dissemination.
By writing this post, I hope to amplify some of those stories and galvanize international support for these protesters, whom the Taliban so strongly wishes to erase from history.
From the very beginning of Taliban rule in 2021, small groups of women have been protesting in different cities throughout Afghanistan for their rights. Kabul and Herat are at the heart of these protests. While these protesters’ nonviolent actions are limited in scale, they are frequently and courageously defying the Taliban’s oppression. One anonymous female activist told me: “It is a matter of life or death for us. Without thinking of its consequences, we will continue challenging them [the Taliban].” Protester slogans echo this courageous sentiment that the Taliban’s brutality must be challenged at any price. Slogans have included (translated by the author):
At times, women demonstrate in the streets of the cities where they live, which mainstream media have been covering—much to the Taliban’s dismay. At other times, the women gather in houses, mask their faces, record their protests, then send the photos and videos to Afghan diaspora groups. These groups then share the indoor protest content on Facebook, X and other social media platforms, further amplified by international organizations like Amnesty International.
An activist from Mazar Sharif told me that on the 2nd anniversary of the Taliban takeover, she and 10 of her colleagues had planned to get together in one of their houses to protest indoors, holding anti-Taliban banners. However, because of the strict security regime of the Taliban that day, only two of them were able to gather in the designated house. She reported that those two women still did not shy away from their responsibility and proceeded with the protest. They shared photos of themselves holding the banners, and the photos made their way to various Afghan-run social media accounts in and outside of Afghanistan.
How effective are these actions against such violent oppressors as the Taliban? We cannot say, but we do know that the Taliban isn’t taking the women’s actions lightly. Media reports coming out from Afghanistan indicate that the Taliban have forcefully scattered and even jailed many of these female protesters on multiple occasions. However, the harassment has failed to stop new protesters from raising their voices. We can also observe that the Taliban’s oppression is squarely on the international agenda: a 2023 Amnesty International report stipulating that “human rights violations against women and girls have reached the levels of gender persecution, a crime against humanity.”
Further, Afghan women protesting—including outdoors as well—for their rights is a huge historical development for the country, and the actions are unfolding before international observers’ eyes, thanks to coordinated actions between protesters and diaspora groups. Afghan women are making history, and they will be remembered.
The anti-Taliban protests in Afghanistan are in their infancy. It is difficult to scale up nonviolent actions when facing such harsh repression. Still, the female protesters are doing what they can with what they have—and they are a ray of hope for millions of Afghan girls.
The Taliban continues to resist international pressure and appeals to, inter alia, grant girls educational opportunities, coming from the United Nations, Islamic countries, religious Ulema and many organizations and celebrities (including Angelina Jolie). Yet despite the Taliban’s best efforts to silence the nonviolent resistance, the world already knows that women are taking matters into their own hands, rising up to challenge the Taliban and attempting to take back their rights. And it’s very much thanks to the resourcefulness and perseverance of a relatively small but steadfast group of women.