It only cost Zahra a few dollars to buy black and red spray bottles. But if she were caught painting slogans on the streets of Kabul, messages criticizing the Taliban and defending women’s rights, the price would be high indeed.
In a video Zahra posted on social media, she writes “Education, employment, freedom” on a wall as a friend yells at her to move quickly: “Hurry, hurry, Zahra, hurry!”
In these videos, Zahra disguises herself with a cap and a face covering. She wears a different jacket as she approaches the area where she is going to paint her message. He is considering using different routes to move to the Afghan capital. Zahra said she is afraid, but that she fears the Taliban for the same reason she fears “a forest full of wild animals in the dark.”
Zahra, who asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her safety, has spray-painted these messages across the city at least twice: in December, when the Taliban announced for the first time that it would no longer allow women to attend universities, and earlier this month when the group she made good on her promise.
“[The] The wall symbolizes women’s resistance against the Taliban,” Zahra told HuffPost. “It’s my step when the Taliban silence our voices in the streets.”
Zahra was supposed to start her last term at university soon. She was on track to finish her thesis and graduate this summer.
“My dreams were crushed,” Zahra said. “I always imagined myself the day I confidently present my thesis to the committee. the day of graduation where I walk down the platform in a gorgeous dress and towering heels with beautiful makeup, receiving my diploma from my professor and celebrating my achievement.”
When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, the group banned women from attending secondary education. Women were allowed to attend university, but they had to follow strict rules such as taking classes separately from male students, covering the whole body, and taking only certain classes. Last December, the Taliban said women should stop attending universities altogether. These he claimed the ban would be temporary and that they were trying to find a solution and create an environment for female students they say would be in line with Islamic law.
But Taliban officials have not made “firm commitments” to open schools and universities to Afghan women and girls, said Tomas Niklasson, the European Union’s special envoy for Afghanistan. he is reported to have said earlier this month.
“Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most oppressive country in the world when it comes to women’s rights.”
– Roza Otunbayeva, United Nations official
Zahra said she believes the Taliban are making “empty promises” like they did when they were in power in the 1990s.
“I don’t trust the Taliban,” he said. “They are gradually removing us from all social strata.”
In December, the Taliban too banned women from working in non-governmental organizations.
Despite their desire for global recognition, Taliban leaders have defied international calls, including from famous Islamic institutionsto lift bans on women’s employment and education, arguing that the world should not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
“Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most oppressive country in the world when it comes to women’s rights,” said Roza Otunbayeva. top United Nations official and former president of Kyrgyzstan, he told the UN Security Council last week.
Afghanistan is the only country in the world where female students are not allowed to seek education beyond the sixth grade.
“All or None”
The Taliban’s ban on women attending universities sparked nationwide protests protests and international conviction. Female students took to the streets in Afghan cities, chanting slogans such as “All or none” and “Education for all”. Some male students walked out of classes in solidarity, and some university professors across the country temporarily stopped working or walked out.
Women played a key role in anti-Taliban protestswhose police officers have used physical violence, including beatings and detention, to break up protests and discourage further demonstrations.
“The Taliban fear student movements and women even more,” said Zahra, who helped organize some of the protests.
Zahra has written anti-Taliban slogans on walls in Kabul, including “Death to the Taliban”. He once wrote “Fuck you Taliban” on the wall of a bathroom at Kabul University, according to a video he sent to HuffPost. But her most recent graffiti postings featured a slogan now widely adopted among students – “All or None”, which calls on male students to stand in solidarity with female students and stop attending classes. He has also painted a Persian expression that translates to “Empty the universities.”
“Universities are meaningless without students, so if all male students stop showing up to class, the Taliban will have to rethink their position,” Zahra said.
He was also part of a team that wrote one I open a letter to male students that was published shortly before the start of the spring semester and shared widely on social media. The letter urged male students and faculty members to boycott the universities, as they had promised to do in December.
“We remember your promise and look forward to you performing another legendary act on Monday so that the world can see you standing with justice and freedom and not being ashamed of history,” the letter said. “Millions of girls from all over Afghanistan will look at your stand with teary eyes tomorrow.”
Zahra said some male students are afraid to boycott school because they fear a violent response from the Taliban. However, dozens of students have already joined the effort – and the number is growing every day.
“It’s the beginning of a bigger movement,” he said. “I will fight until I regain my rights as a woman.”
Last week, on International Women’s Day, leaders around the world highlighted the plight of Afghan women and showed support for their bravery in the fight for their rights.
“Despite decades of progress, in too many places around the world, the rights of women and girls continue to be under attack, holding back entire communities,” said US President Joe Biden. statement. “We see this in Afghanistan, where the Taliban prevent women and girls from going to school and looking for work.”
Foreign Ministers of many countries issued a joint statement in which they also said they stand behind women fighting for equality.
“We unite to recognize the extraordinary courage of women and girls in Afghanistan,” the statement said. “We support the calls of the Afghan people for women and girls’ full access to quality education in schools and universities and the unlimited ability of women to work in all fields.”
However, many Afghan women believe that these responses are insufficient and that the international community has done nothing tangible to pressure the Taliban.
“Nothing has been done by world leaders,” Zahra said, “except to sit back and wait for the Taliban’s next decision to condemn.”