Taliban women wearing full face veils sat in rows in a Kabul university lecture theatre Saturday, vowing to adhere to the Taliban’s hardline policies on gender segregation. As speakers raged against the West and expressed support for the Islamists’ policies, hundreds of women waved Talib flags. The women wore full head-to-toe coverage according to strict new school dress policies.
Few wore blue burqas, which had only a small mesh window to see through, but most wore black niqabs, which covered most of their faces except for their eyes. Many wore black gloves as well. Afghanistan’s women’s rights were severely curtailed under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, but they have promised to reduce restrictions since returning to power last month.
Taliban education officials have announced that women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are divided by sex or at least a curtain separates classes. Additionally, they must wear an abaya robe and niqab. Organizers said the women were students who listened to a series of speeches at the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul. The podium was flanked by large Taliban flags, and the female speakers criticized women who have been protesting across Afghanistan in recent days.
Additionally, they defended the new government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which prohibits demonstrations unless permission is granted from the justice ministry. According to Daud Haqqani, director of foreign relations at the education ministry, the protest was organized by women who had requested and been granted permission to demonstrate. We oppose the protests taking place in the streets by those women who claim to be representing women, says a bare-chested woman.
‘Is it the freedom to like the last government?’ It is not freedom. Women were abused by the last government. She claimed they recruited women based on their beauty. While some people in the audience held babies who occasionally cried during the speeches, others were young girls clearly too young for university. According to Shabana Omari, a student from Pakistan, women should cover their heads, which is a Taliban policy.
In reference to the headscarf worn by many Muslim women, she said, ‘Those not wearing the hijab harm all of us’.Having concluded her speech with the chorus ‘Allahu Akbar’, or ‘God is greatest’, Omari concluded that ‘the hijab is not considered an individual thing’. Another speaker, Somaiya, said history had changed since the Taliban returned. ‘There will no longer be Bihijabi’ (people without head-scarves),’ she declared. ‘Women will be safe after this. We are supporting our government with all our strength’.
After the speeches in the meeting hall, the women organized themselves in lines on the street outside, holding banners and flanked by Taliban soldiers carrying rifles and machine guns. The public demonstration contrasted with scenes earlier in the week in Kabul and elsewhere, in which Taliban fighters fired into the air to disperse protests against their rule, killing two people. On Saturday, a pro-Taliban banner read, ‘Women who left Afghanistan cannot represent us’.
‘The Mujahideens (Taliban) have our approval on their attitude and behavior’. In a statement, the Taliban say they want to distance themselves from the harsher policies of the past, when half of the population was excluded from education and employment. Women may work ‘in accordance with the principles of Islam’, the Taliban decreed, but few details have been provided about what that might entail.