“Food, work, freedom” is the slogan that women chanted in the street protests from the first days after the tumble of Kabul. A slogan that follows the realization of economic, social, and political rights of the people of Afghanistan, especially women, and regardless of basic needs, stresses the recognition of the right to political participation, social and economic activities, and most importantly, the independent and humane identity of women.
Afghanistan does not have many successful or unsuccessful experiences in the field of street protests in the history of its conflicts, and for this reason, many experts believe that the current period and street marches of women in Kabul and some provinces can be considered as a turning point in the history of civil struggles. The struggle, which has been met with severe repression by the Taliban, and in the latest case of house-to-house attempts by protesters to detain and beat them, threatening and intimidating members of the protesters’ families, indicate the spread of a wave of repression.
In the meantime, the question arises, where are the men who are missing from the ranks of civil protests in the country? After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, were only women affected? Statistics provided by the International Monetary Fund show a 30 percent contraction of the country’s economy in 2022 and warnings from the United Nations and the Red Cross indicate a humanitarian crisis and famine in Afghanistan. The current state of people’s daily lives indicates the spread of poverty and unemployment in the country and the lack of money in the economic cycle. So why, along with women, does the silence of the other half of society not break?
Focusing on the current situation of street protests in Afghanistan, we will address the root causes and pathology of the male presence gap in the protest line, important factors in turning women’s protests into a fluid social stream, and the Taliban’s fear of women with increasing repression.
In this report, I went to two street protesters. It is not possible to address the issue of women’s protests without recording the true narratives of these protesters who were present at the scene in the days and months following the fall. Of course, it should not be overlooked that I refuse to reveal their names and identities in order to protect the lives of these two protesters.
One of the women protesters, who chanted the slogan “Food, work, and freedom”, is in a difficult situation after the news of the Taliban’s attack on the house of two girls (Tamana and Parwana) in different parts of Kabul. She has been forced to leave her home and, while fearing for her own safety and the safety of her family, she is worried about the situation of Tamana and Parwana.
Her protests began on August 18. The protests, she said, have been accompanied by increasing violence and repression by the Taliban.
The woman protestor says that every time we hit the road, the Taliban responded with physical violence and psychological torture. When we talk about women’s rights, they call us prostitutes, thugs, and rioters. They hit our shoulders and kidneys with the back of their guns. For hours, husbands, wives, and daughters have been imprisoning this community and trying to isolate us through threats and intimidation. We have even heard many times in the face of the Taliban that Afghanistan is not your homeland. This is not the property of prostitutes.
She sharply criticizes those who describe these struggles as an attempt to get out of Afghanistan and make cases.
“Standing and fighting face to face against the Taliban with weapons, even for a few minutes, is like putting our lives in the palm of our hands. Even if the protesters want to leave Afghanistan to maintain their security, my question is, what is the problem of leaving Afghanistan to maintain safety and security? Is it disgraceful for a protester to stand up even one day before leaving Afghanistan? Does anyone know that these girls go to the streets to protest, hug their family members, and say goodbye before leaving home, which may be the last goodbye? This means that they have thought of everything and have taken their lives in the palm of their hands. Is standing in front of Talib a show? A primitive cantaloupe who knows nothing but violence, confrontation, and opposition to human rights? Every time I go out to protest, I tell myself to hug your mother, which may be the last goodbye. This is gambling and risk with life and soul. Is it a case making”!?
The protesting woman emphasizes that the Taliban are afraid of aware women and that the women’s voices have shaken their bodies. Of course, she avoids another point and mentions two groups as opponents of the female voice. The Taliban carry weapons on their shoulders and the people carry the ideas of Talibanism and extremism in the stratum of society.
Therefore, this indicates that more pathology is needed.
In examining why men are not present at the street protests, Sanjar Sohail, the owner of the Hasht-e Subh newspaper, points to the patriarchal fabric of Afghan society and the Taliban’s thoughts tied to the minds of the vast majority of people. According to him, unequal structures, social, political, and cultural relations in Afghanistan in different historical periods have caused the share of men to always be more than privileges and facilities. This has reduced the sense of need in men and led to silence. Of course, this is not the only factor and there are other factors.
He referred to the international community’s imminent predictions of a famine crisis and humanitarian catastrophe and described the unequal division of responsibilities in families as one of the paradigms of men’s absence from protests. According to him, the situation in Afghanistan is such that men have a heavy economic responsibility, such as feeding family and maintaining security, and therefore, instead of changing the situation, they are more looking to maintain minimal resources. On top of all this, perhaps, the absence of men in street protests is not unrelated to a sense of lack of courage and fear of the harm that men have suffered in the last four decades of war.
In his view, a large part of the victims of the Forty Years’ war is men. Men who were tortured, who were killed, who were sentenced to long prison terms, and finally men who were abducted and disappeared. All the mentioned cases have somehow caused the vacancy of men in the scene of street protests.
He adds: “Afghanistan’s conflict, unlike the last four decades, when most of the war was concentrated in the countryside, is now moving to the cities, and therefore the nature of the struggle in the cities has taken on a different face and style. It is a fact that in a large part of Afghanistan’s history we have not seen the emergence of effective movements in street protests. Various factors have influenced this issue, from lack of experience to knowledge and awareness and, most importantly, the armed conflict in Afghanistan, all of which have overshadowed the shortcomings of these movements. On this basis, it is important that in the future the protests become a flow of social fluid, and this can only be done by strengthening awareness and cohesion, substituting unanimity for unanimity, gaining the experience of other countries, and domestic and international support.”
Sanjar Sohail describes the slogan “Food, work, freedom” as a historical cornerstone for improving the political and social situation of women and emphasizes that in the last 20 years, one of the main problems in the field of women’s rights has been that a bunch of parties and people on the scene were those who did not spontaneously emerge from within political, cultural and social relations; we are witnessing the formation of a spontaneous indigenous current with a very different purpose and slogan, adding that I do not want to blame everyone, but most of these women’s advocates have in fact been and are advocating for their project and economic gain. Although there are thought-provoking people among them, most of them have been looking for personal and economic benefits, so the lobbies and their voice in the current situation are based on their interests inside and outside Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, another woman protester called me immediately after posting a video of Tamana Zaryab claiming that the Taliban had raided her house in Kabul’s Kabul Parwan district. He has two children and was forced to leave home. According to his own words, the Taliban took his children hostage and confiscated his mother’s mobile phone after a search of his house.
However, Sohail says women’s liberation struggles will be widespread, and the Taliban’s behavior shows that they have failed because they are afraid of us and women have become a major concern for them.
In recent statements, the Taliban have denied any wrongdoing and denounced the violence.
On the other hand, apart from the narratives of female protesters, several prominent international media outlets have recently published reports of arrests and raids on protesters ‘homes, acts of violence, and psychological torture, confirming the protesters’ claims.
The Taliban barred girls from opening schools, the separation of female employees from government offices, the ambiguous fate of female students, barred women from wearing city cars on the condition of Muharram, and barred women from attending public baths.
Although Afghanistan is experiencing a difficult situation in terms of creating a humanitarian and economic crisis, the Taliban seem to have given up on everything and focused on putting pressure and restrictions on women. Doesn’t this mean that the Taliban’s ideology and worldview are irreconcilable with women?
Source: Hasht-e Subh Daily