They went to the meeting hoping to talk to the Taliban about Afghan women’s right to education. Around 400 women and girls, many of them of high-school and university age, showed up on April 1 at a sports hall in the central city of Bamiyan for what they had been told would be a chance to discuss their right to get an education. But when it turned out to be a rally for the local Taliban – with not a word said about education –the women tore down a banner and demanded to be heard.
Two of our Observers were among the women who attended the event. They said they had been told by friends that the Taliban was billing the occasion as an opportunity to discuss women’s right to education in the presence of the Taliban’s governor for Bamiyan province. But when they showed up, they found banners saying “The people of Bamiyan support the Taliban”. The women said they and other women who attended believe they were tricked into coming.
The event came two weeks after the Taliban did a sudden U-turn on education for teenage girls. High schools in Afghanistan reopened for girls on March 23 after more than six months of closure. But the Ministry of Education announced the same day that high-school classes for girls were being suspended again until a plan could be drawn up “in accordance with Islamic law and Afghan culture”.
In Bamiyan, like everywhere in Afghanistan, girls older than 13 have no right to attend school. However, so far the presence of girls in the gender-segregated classes in universities is tolerated.
Afghan women have protested on multiple occasions against the Taliban since the group regained control of the country in August 2021.
READ MORE ON THE OBSERVERS: Taliban put down protest in Kabul: ‘Even if you cut our heads off, we will rise again’
‘No school for women, no support from us’
Adeleh [not her real name] is a university student in Bamiyan. Classes at her university are segregated by gender after the Taliban’s takeover of the country in August 2021. She says she was tricked into attending the April 1 event:
We were told this would be a gathering about women’s right to education. Lots of us decided to go, mostly student-age, university or high-school.
But when I arrived, there were men and women already there chanting slogans like “We support the Taliban”. When some of the women started asking why there was no discussion of women’s education, the Taliban told them to stay silent and not interrupt the meeting. Some of the women left the hall in protest. Many of us stayed though, thinking maybe women’s education would be next on the agenda … but no, there was nothing.
Instead, three members of the Taliban made speeches from 9am to noon. They said nothing about women’s right to education. Finally after many of us protested, they allowed one woman to talk on behalf of the 400 or 500 who were there. She said: “There won’t be any support for the Taliban from Afghan women until they allow us to get an education.” When she continued to talk about our right to education, all of the Taliban members left the stadium, just like that.
Some of the women got angry and tore down the banners that said: “The people of Bamiyan support the Taliban”. Other women who were still in the stadium applauded them.
It was a good lesson for the Taliban: they’ll know not to try to trick Afghan women again. Maybe it will teach them that what most Afghan women say and want is not the same thing that their puppets in black burqas say.
Our Observers say that none of the women have so far been prosecuted for disrupting the meeting.
Seifollah Mohammadi, head of the Taliban’s cultural bureau in Bamiyan, told Deutsche Welle’s Persian service: “When the meeting finished, the officials rushed to get back to their jobs. After that apparently there was a dispute among the people who were still in the hall, and they ripped the banners.”