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Protests show women will never give up, says Afghan activist

Afghan women take part in a protest to demand that the Taliban government allow the reopening of girls schools and provide employment opportunities for women, in Kabul, Afghanistan, 21 October 2021. (Keystone/EPA/Stringer)

It will be written in history that the resistance to Taliban rule in Afghanistan was spearheaded by women.  Since the takeover in August, women have taken to the streets day after day to raise their voices, refusing to give up their rights once again under the Taliban.

Rahila Jafari is a civil society activist who organised recent demonstrations in the capital Kabul on 7 September. She and her fellow activists joined many other Afghan women to call for the right to work and education, as well as the right to participate in the newly formed Taliban government. There are no women in the interim cabinet, and Taliban leaders wasted no time in abolishing the country’s Minister of Women’s Affairs after they seized power.

“When the Taliban's spokesman did not give women the right to work or education and said that women could no longer be at the leadership levels of the government, I organized demonstrations with fellow female activists,” says Jafari, who has been involved in civil society activism for the past eight years, organizing protests against the former government. She recently fled with her family to Pakistan out of fear for her safety.

Born in Iran, 27-year-old Jafari moved to Afghanistan with her parents and five brothers when she was a teenager. Before the Taliban took power, she worked as an adviser in the parliamentary committee on women's affairs and as a civil society expert for the presidency. In 2018, she also stood as a parliamentary candidate in the Kabul region.

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Rahila Jafari is a civil society activist.

On top of this, Jafari worked as a senior adviser to the Afghanistan Peace Process Institute – a role which allowed her to witness her country's peace process first hand.

“I was actively involved in the peace process and regularly met with government officials and political leaders to discuss women's participation in peace talks and other Afghan national interests related issues,” explains Jafari.

Jafari says Afghan women will never give up their struggle. She insists that, if the Taliban want to establish a strong and stable government, they must be involved. Until their calls are met, women will continue to protest on the streets of Afghanistan.

“Afghan women do not just consider the protests their civil right, but they consider it as their social responsibility,” says Jafari. “They protest against the Taliban rule to fight for an inclusive government with women present, and they protest to make a future for their daughters.”

Read also: Where are all the women in discussions with the Taliban?

But the Taliban is making it increasingly difficult and dangerous for women to protest. Recent rallies have been broken up by violence, with reports of the Taliban at times using force - beating women with batons and firing weapons into the air.

Last month, the Taliban said those wanting to hold protests had to seek prior permission and provide details of the time, place and what slogans would be chanted, effectively banning impromptu demonstrations.

On 27 October, the bullet-ridden bodies of four women believed to have demonstrated against the Taliban were reportedly found dumped in a pit in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. One of the dead has been identified as a well-known women's rights activist and university lecturer, Forouzan Safi.

According to her father, 30-year-old Safi, had told her family she was going abroad with the help of a human rights organization. But two hours later, they found her dead body in the hospital.

The news of the women's deaths has been a stark warning that women's rights activists are being hunted down and picked off one by one.

Dispatches from women in Afghanistan