Kabul, Afghanistan – Dozens of women took to the streets of the capital on Saturday to demand their right to work, a role in any future government, and a seat at the table in discussions with the Taliban.
The protest began with 50 women marching towards the presidential palace.
However, Razia Barakzai, 26, said the women were stopped near the entrance to the finance ministry, where the Taliban “surrounded” them and kept them from continuing on their march towards the palace entrance.
Barakzai said the Taliban had employed both pepper spray and tear gas to try and disburse the crowd. “We were calm and peaceful the entire time, but they just wanted to stop us at any cost,” she told Al Jazeera.
Saturday’s demonstration marks at least the fourth time women in Kabul and the western city of Herat have gathered to demand their rights in a future Taliban-led government. Barakzai said the Taliban which tried to encircle the protesters were wearing red banners and carrying guns.
“These weren’t ordinary Taliban forces,” she said.
The crowd was surrounded on all four sides by the Taliban, who told them, according to Barakzai, “Go home, each of you one by one.” However, getting out proved to be just as difficult, since the Taliban continued to surround them.
“It was strange, they didn’t want us to stay, but they also wouldn’t let us leave.”
Barakzai also said one of the women was struck by the Taliban. Social media images showed a young woman bleeding from the head, where she claimed the Taliban had struck her.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify exactly how she was injured.
Barakzai, who previously worked for a government office, said the latest action was in response to a recent statement by senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who in an interview said there “may not” be a place for women in the higher echelons of a future Taliban-led government.
“How are we supposed to have the rights they promised us if we’re not in decision-making roles of the government or involved in talks with the Taliban,” said Barakzai.
At an August 17 news conference, the Taliban said the group “is committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia [Islamic law]. Our sisters, our men have the same rights; they will be able to benefit from their rights. They can have activities in different sectors and different areas on the basis of our rules and regulations: educational, health and other areas. They are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us.”
However, Barakzai said women have yet to see any proof of that commitment to their participation or an explanation of what, if any, limits the Taliban will place on women’s role in the workplace and society as a whole. Additionally, Barakzai said when she and her comrades tried to meet the Taliban to address the issues of women’s rights and participation, they were turned away.
“They would make an excuse that we didn’t have the right paperwork or that we weren’t there at the right time, but it just seems like they don’t want to talk to us,” she said, adding women will continue to engage in demonstrations until the Taliban provides them with suitable answers.
Recent weeks have seen the Taliban send mixed signals about the place of women in Afghan society. In late August, the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said women who work with the government should stay at home until they can ensure their safety on the streets and in offices.
“We are worried our forces who are new and have not been yet trained very well may mistreat women … We don’t want our forces, God forbid, to harm or harass women,” Mujahid said at an August 24 press briefing. He went on to say women should stay at home and would be paid their salaries until such a time that it would be deemed safe for them to return to work.
This statement has been compared with a similar one Stanekzai made in 1996, when the Taliban first came to power.
Stanekzai, who was then the Taliban’s deputy foreign minister, said the Taliban leadership at the time, “have just told them [women] that for the time being they should not come to [the] office and school … Until the time we can come out with some sort of solution or we can provide them with separate places.”
That time never came. During their initial rule, the Taliban banned women, except for doctors, from working and did not allow girls to attend school.