Women Protesting in Afghanistan Stand Face-to-Face Against Armed Taliban Fighters

One photo, taken by Reuters and shared by the journalist Zahra Rahimi on Twitter, showed an Afghan woman just feet in front of an armed Taliban member with his gun pointed at her chest

Afghan women protest
Afghan women protest. Photo: HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty

In the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of the war, numerous Afghans have sought refuge from the Taliban, the militant group that returned to power 20 years after it last brutally ruled the country.

Life under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 saw girls banned from seeking an education and women forced to wear burqas and travel only with a male companion.

The decades since the Taliban was ousted in a 2001 invasion, however, brought many changes for women and girls in the country — particularly those in the cities. And while advocates fear the loss of this way of life and many have gone into hiding, there have been protests and resistance.

This week, as hundreds of Afghans demonstrated in Kabul, the capital, women came face-to-face with Taliban fighters.

On Tuesday, women in hijabs joined protests there after the leader of the National Resistance Front, Ahmad Massoud, on Monday called for an uprising against the Taliban, NBC News reported, following the Taliban's announcement of a male-only interim government.

The Tuesday protests — the largest since the Taliban took Kabul last month, insisting it was more moderate than before — were reportedly met with gunfire, detentions and beatings by fighters.

One photo, taken by Reuters on Tuesday and shared by the journalist Zahra Rahimi on Twitter, illustrated the head-to-head, showing an Afghan woman standing just feet in front of an armed Taliban member with his gun pointed in her direction.

It was unclear what happened after that incident.

According to Reuters, the photo was taken "as Afghan demonstrators shout[ed] slogans during an anti-Pakistan protest, near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul." (Pakistan has long been accused of supporting the Taliban, which it denies.)

CNN reported that Taliban fighters were seen shooting their weapons into the air in an attempt to disperse those protesting

Afghan women take part in a gathering at a hall in Kabul on August 2, 2021 against the claimed human rights violations on women by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Afghan women take part in a gathering at a hall in Kabul on Aug. 2 against the claimed human rights violations on women by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty

On Wednesday, women again gathered in Kabul's streets, this time holding placards demanding "freedom" and declaring "no government can deny the presence of women."

In response, CNN reported, some Taliban fighters "used whips and sticks" to lash some of the women.

Some at the protest told CNN that journalists reporting on the protest had been detained and that some teenagers had been beaten for participating in the protests.

The Taliban has not yet issued formal guidance for women and girls living under their rule, as leaders say they will not return to earlier, draconian restrictions.

Their claims have been viewed skeptically, and it's unclear if its members all agree: The group's leaders have suggested fighters will need to be taught how not to "mistreat women."

Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said in a news conference last week that women should not go to work for fears they could be "hurt" by fighters who are not trained.

"We are happy for them to enter the buildings but we want to make sure they do not face any worries," he said, according to CNN. "Therefore, we have asked them to take time off from work until the situation gets back to a normal order and women related procedures are in place, then they can return to their jobs once it's announced."

In an interview published this week, a Taliban official said that some women's sports would be banned because they would be "exposed."

Afghan women protest
Afghan women protest. HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty

Wazhma Frogh — co-founder of Afghanistan's Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the recipient of the International Women of Courage Award — spoke to PEOPLE recently about the "continuous, painful conversations" she has been having with Afghan women scared for their future.

"[We're] trying to help one who's on the run or trying to help women who are burning their documents, burning the pictures they took of events that we had or burning their education documents, anything that would show that they are an active or educated person," Frogh said. "I'm thinking about a country where millions of women are educated and living in hiding. That can't hold, can it?"

She continued: "At the same time I see that even in their first, second days of the Taliban in Kabul, five women came out and said, 'We can't accept this.' Five women holding a placard isn't going to do it, of course, but that shows that people are willing to stand up."

If you would like to support those in need during the upheaval in Afghanistan, consider:

* Donating to UNICEF to aid Afghans in the country or

Donating to the International Refugee Assistance Project to help those fleeing.

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