Dozens of Afghan women have demonstrated in the western city of Herat to demand their rights to employment and education.
Mariam Ebram, who was in attendance at the protest on Thursday, told Al Jazeera that they took to the streets out of frustration with the lack of answers from the de facto Taliban government on women’s right to work.
The 24-year-old said that for weeks she, and other women, were told not to come to work or were turned away when they arrived at their offices in the biggest city in western Afghanistan.
Ebram said that she and a group of other Herati women met top Taliban officials to ask for a clear explanation of their policies on the rights of women, but never received a suitable answer.
“After weeks of trying to engage with the Taliban at all levels, the women decided to make their voices heard publicly,” Ebram said.
“We tried talking to them, but we saw that other than the Taliban of 20 years ago, there was no one there. There was no change,” she said, referring to Taliban’s previous rule between 1996-2001, which was marked by ban on women education and employment.
Since retaking Afghanistan last month, the Taliban leadership has assured that they would allow women to work and pursue education, as Afghans fear the return of strict rule.
She said the women spoke frankly to several Taliban leaders, including the police chief and the director of information and culture, “You got rid of the occupier, you snuffed out democracy, but what will you bring in place of it, and what will our role be?”
Dozens of women in western Herat province protested in the city and chatting “don’t afraid, don’t afraid, we are together”.
It is the first ever protest in the country after Taliban took over Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/v5DvWVjKEL
— Zahra Rahimi (@ZahraSRahimi) September 2, 2021
Ebram said she accepted the Taliban’s criticism of the previous government as “corrupt”. But they wanted to know what the new Taliban-led system would offer to women, she told Al Jazeera.
She said a recent interview by senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai forced them to take to the streets. In a recent interview with the BBC Pashto, Stanikzai said there “may not” be a place for women in a future Taliban-led government.
“All we are asking for is rights,” Ebram said of the women’s demands, adding that “a government without women will never last.”
However, she said that if the Taliban allows equal representation of women in the government and Loya Jirga (national assemblies), she and her colleagues would accept them.
In recent weeks, the Taliban has been sending mixed messages about women working. In late August, the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that women who work with the government should stay at home until they can ensure their safety on the streets and in offices.
However, last week, the Taliban called on female workers at the Ministry of Public Health to return to work.