Mariam is an activist in the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), living in Afghanistan.
Women’s demonstrations started in the first week of full Taliban rule, particularly in Herat and Kabul and other cities. In these cities at least, women previously had some basic rights, like having jobs and going to school and university. These were small demonstrations, mostly dozens rather than many hundreds or thousands. But they took place in a lot of places, and that showed the power and strength that women in Afghanistan have. Some were attacked by the Taliban.
A lot of those demonstrating were women employees, especially government employees, who are being prevented from going to work. Often these women are the sole breadwinners for their families; there are a large number of widows in Kabul and other areas. Without these jobs they cannot feed their children.
Meanwhile primary schools are being strictly segregated and girls excluded from secondary schools.
Of course, before this, women in Afghanistan did not enjoy a lot of rights; it was a very male-dominated society. The Taliban are much, much worse. Largely you don’t even see women on the streets now. If they are out it is in the burqa. But Afghan women are the not the same as 20 years ago. They have learnt a lot. This was not because of the US presence in Afghanistan. It is because 20 years is a long time and this generation who have had some basic rights want to try to keep them. The old government was not a democracy, it was a corrupt and rotten regime. But at the same time many women went to school and work and saw things could be different. They don’t want to experience what their mothers experienced under the first period of the Taliban.
The Taliban have not become more modern, let alone democratic. It is absolutely in their nature that they are reactionary fundamentalists. It would be foolish to expect any positive changes from them. They say they are not against women’s rights, but listen to what they actually say, that women’s rights must come under sharia law. Sharia law is itself incompatible with the rights of women. The very best we could end up with is something like Iran, a deeply misogynistic regime. Very likely it will be much worse.
Some of us in RAWA have some experience from the first period of Taliban rule, when we documented executions, beatings and the oppression of women. We will do that again. We will continue our fight, with patience and determination. It will be more difficult than before and we will not be as strong. We will have to see what is possible and how we need to adapt.
We have always taken a lot of strength from international support — not from governments or mainstream organisations but from freedom- and justice-loving people around the world.