Afghan Women Stage Protest Demanding Role in Government, Education as Taliban Watch

Afghan women in Kabul staged a protest near the presidential palace demanding a role in Afghanistan's new government and access to education as members of the Taliban, who returned to power in the nation, watched on, the Associated Press reported.

There was a separate women's rights protest for equal rights held in Herat. In Kabul, about 20 women gathered with microphones, also demanding that they be able to work. The Taliban previously ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 under harsh rule and women were not allowed to go out in public. The group let the demonstration go on without interruption as armed gunmen supervised.

"Freedom is our motto. It makes us proud," said a sign of an Afghan woman demonstrating there.

Women in Afghanistan are concerned the progress they made will be rolled back. The Taliban seized control of the nation as the U.S. was engaged in its military drawdown after previously ousting the Taliban and being involved in the country for 20 years.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghan Women Protest in Kabul
Afghan women staged a protest in Kabul demanding a role in government and access to education as the Taliban watched. In this photo are Afghan women taking part in the protest march for their rights under the Taliban rule in the downtown area of Kabul on September 3, 2021. Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban are working on forming a government and seeking international recognition.

The Taliban captured most of the country in a matter of days last month and celebrated the departure of the last U.S. forces. Now they face the urgent challenge of governing a war-ravaged country that is heavily reliant on international aid.

The Taliban have promised an inclusive government and a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last ruled the country. But many Afghans, especially women, are deeply skeptical.

The protest in Kabul was the second women's protest in as many days, with the other held in the western city of Herat.

A Taliban fighter ventured into the crowd at one point, but witnesses said he was angry at the bystanders who had stopped to watch the demonstration and not the protesters themselves.

The Taliban have said women will be able to continue their education and work outside the home, rights denied to women when the militants were last in power. But the Taliban have also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, without providing specifics.

Interpretations of Islamic law vary widely across the Muslim world, with more moderate strains predominating. The Taliban's earlier rule was shaped by Afghanistan's unique tribal traditions, under which women are not to be seen in public. Those customs endure, especially in the countryside, even during 20 years of Western-backed governments.

A potentially more pressing concern for the Taliban is the economy, which is mired in crisis. Civil servants haven't been paid for months, ATM's have been shut down and banks are limiting withdrawals to $200 per week, causing large crowds to form outside them. Aid groups have warned of widespread hunger amid a severe drought.

The Taliban said Western Union, which halted service after the militants entered Kabul last month, will resume transfers, which may help Afghans to receive cash from relatives living abroad. But most of Afghanistan's foreign reserves are held abroad and frozen while Western nations consider how to engage with the Taliban, putting pressure on the local currency.

There was no immediate comment from Western Union on the resumption of service.

The Taliban say they want good relations with all countries, even the United States, and have held a string of meetings with foreign envoys in recent days in the Gulf nation of Qatar, where they have long maintained a political office.

Western nations are expected to demand the Taliban live up to their promises to form an inclusive government and prevent Afghanistan from being a haven for terrorist groups. They may also press the Taliban on women's rights, though that could be a harder sell for the group's hard-line base, which is steeped in Afghanistan's deeply conservative, tribal culture.

Ahmadullah Muttaqi, a spokesman for the Taliban's cultural commission, said a senior official from the United Arab Emirates flew into Kabul's international airport on Friday to meet with Taliban officials, without naming him. Afghanistan's TOLO TV reported that the aircraft was also carrying 60 tons of food and medical aid.

Sher Mohammad Stanikzai, a senior Taliban official based in Qatar, recently met with British and German delegations, according to the Taliban, which said another official, Abdul Salam Hanafi, had a phone call with Chinese deputy foreign minister Wu Jianghao.

Most Western embassies were evacuated and shuttered in the days after the Taliban rolled into Kabul on Aug. 15. The Taliban have urged diplomats to return.

Taliban political leaders have gone on TV to say the world has nothing to fear from them. But many Afghans, as well as Western nations that spent two decades fighting the group, remain deeply skeptical.

Tens of thousands of Afghans fled the country after the Taliban takeover in a massive U.S.-led airlift out of Kabul international airport. The scenes of chaos, from Afghans clinging to military aircraft as they took off before falling to their deaths, to a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, marked a bitter end to America's longest war.

The Taliban assumed control of the airport after the last American forces flew out and are now working to restore operations with technical experts from Qatar and Turkey. The Taliban say they will allow free travel for anyone with proper documents, but it remains to be seen whether any commercial airlines will offer service.

Officials from Pakistan International Airlines have met with Afghanistan's still-independent civil aviation administration. But Abdullah Hafeez, a spokesman for the airline, said it will take "some time" to clean up the debris and restore normal operations.

"There is still a lot of work to be done before international flights can come into the airport," he said.