Afghan women wearing full-face veils sat in rows at a Kabul university lecture theatre Saturday, pledging commitment to the Taliban’s hardline policies on gender segregation. About 300 women — covered head-to-toe following strict new dress policies for education — waved Taliban flags as speakers railed against the West and expressed support for the Islamists’ policies. A handful wore blue burqas, which had only a small mesh window to see from, but most wore black niqabs covering most of the face apart from the eyes. Many also wore black gloves.
Taliban sharply curtailed women’s rights in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, but since returning to power last month, they have claimed they will implement a less extreme rule. This time, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or divided by a curtain, the Taliban’s education authority has said. They must also wear an abaya robe and niqab.
The women, who organizers said were students, listened to a series of speeches at Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul. Large Taliban flags flanked the podium as the female speakers criticized women who have protested across Afghanistan in recent days. They also defended the new government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which has banned demonstrations unless the justice ministry grants permission. Daud Haqqani, director of foreign relations at the education ministry, said the protest was organized by the women, who had asked and been granted permission to demonstrate.
Shabana Omari told the crowd she agreed with the Taliban’s policy that women should cover their heads. “Those not wearing the hijab are harming all of us,” she said, referring to the headscarves worn by many Muslim women. “The hijab is not an individual thing.” Omari concluded her speech by leading a chorus of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest.”