Afghan women take up arms against Taliban, demonstrate on streets

In northern and central parts of Afghanistan, women have taken up arms against the Taliban in the region.
Afghan women take up arms against Taliban, demonstrate on streets
Hundreds of women demonstrated against the Taliban (Source: IANS)

In northern and central parts of Afghanistan, women marched on the streets in hundreds. During the march, they shared pictures of themselves with assault rifles on social media to make their stand against the Taliban, reported The Guardian. Held in central Ghor province, it’s one of the biggest demonstrations where hundreds of women came out on weekend, waving guns and chanting anti-Taliban slogans.

There were some women who just wanted to inspire security forces, just symbolic, but many more were ready to go to the battlefields...

- Halima Parastish, head of the women's directorate in Ghor

According to the report, even though the women in Afghanistan have taken up arms, they are unlikely to go on the frontlines any time soon. The reason being both - social conservatism and lack of experience. The public demonstrations, mentions the report, at such a time indicated the kind of threat the anti-state elements presented for the women and their families in the country.

"There were some women who just wanted to inspire security forces, just symbolic, but many more were ready to go to the battlefields," said Halima Parastish, the head of the women's directorate in Ghor and one of the marchers. Halima added, "That includes myself, I and some other women told the governor around a month ago that we're ready to go and fight."

Taliban has been exerting power across rural Afghanistan, taking control of more than a dozen districts including northern Badakhshan province, which was a stronghold of anti-Taliban sentiment 20 years ago. Under siege, they now have multiple provincial capitals in effect. In the areas they control, the Taliban militants have already enforced restrictions on women's education, freedom of movement and choice of clothing inform activists and residents. In one particular area, flyers were circulated demanding that women put on ‘burqas’.

Even women from extremely conservative rural areas aspire to get more education, greater freedom of movement and a greater role in their families, according to a new survey by a group whose voices are rarely heard. Taliban rule will take them in the opposite direction, the report said.

"No woman wants to fight, I just want to continue my education and stay far away from violence, but conditions made me and other women stand up," said a journalist in her early 20s from northern Jowzjan. The report also mentions that there is a history of women fighting in this particular region. She attended a day's training on weapons handling in the provincial capital, which is currently besieged. She asked not to be named, in case it falls to the Taliban. "I don't want the country under the control of people who treat women the way they do. We took up the guns to show if we have to fight, we will," she said.

She said a few dozen women were learning to use guns with her, and despite their inexperience, they would have one advantage over men if they faced the Taliban. "They are frightened of being killed by us, they consider it shameful," she said. For conservative militants, facing women in battle can be humiliating. According to reports, ISIS fighters in Syria were reportedly more frightened of dying at the hands of female Kurdish forces than being killed by men!

Women will never pick up guns against us. They are helpless and forced by the defeated enemy... They can't fight.

- spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid

It is rare, but not unprecedented, for Afghan women to take up arms, particularly in slightly less conservative parts of the country. Last year, a teenager, Qamar Gul, became famous nationwide after fighting off a group of Taliban who had killed her parents. The militants included her husband. In Baghlan province, Bibi Aisha Habibi had become the country's only female warlord in the wake of the Soviet invasion and the civil war that followed. She was known as Commander Kaftar or Pigeon. And in northern Balkh, 39-year-old Salima Mazari has recently been fighting on the frontlines in Charkint, where she is the district governor.

The Taliban shrugged off Afghanistan's historical precedents, claiming the demonstrations were propaganda and men would not allow female relatives to fight. "Women will never pick up guns against us. They are helpless and forced by the defeated enemy," said a spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid and added, "They can't fight."

As per the report, the provincial governor of Ghor, Abdulzahir Faizzada, said that some women who came out in the streets of Firozkoh, the provincial capital, had already battled the Taliban, and most had endured violence from the group. 

The Taliban's conservative rules are particularly unwelcome in Ghor, where women traditionally wear headscarves rather than covering themselves fully with the burqa and work in fields and villages beside their men, Parastish said.

The Taliban has banned women even from taking care of animals or working the land in areas of Ghor they control, she added. They have closed girls' schools, ordered women not to leave home without a male guardian and even banned them from gathering for weddings, saying only men should attend.

(With inputs from IANS)

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