In northern and central Afghanistan, women take up arms. Hundreds of them march through the streets and share photos of themselves with assault rifles on social media. It is an act of defiance against the Taliban, which is conquering more and more territories across the country.
One of the largest demonstrations took place in central Afghanistan's Ghor Province, where hundreds of women took to the streets last weekend, showing their weapons and chanting anti-Taliban chants. They are unlikely to pull towards the front lines in the near future, both because of their social conservatism and their lack of experience. But the public demonstrations - at a time of acute threat from the militants - are a reminder of the fear many women are of what a Taliban rule could mean for them and their families.
“Some women just wanted to inspire the security forces, purely symbolically. But many others were ready to go into battle, ”says Halima Parastish, head of the women's directorate in Ghor and one of the demonstrators. “That includes myself. I and a few other women told the governor about a month ago that we were ready to go and fight. "
Meanwhile, the Taliban are sweeping rural Afghanistan. They occupy dozens of regions, such as the northern Badakhshan province, which was a fortress against the Taliban 20 years ago. Now they are effectively besieging several provincial capitals.
"No woman wants to fight"
In the regions controlled by the Taliban, restrictions on education, freedom of movement and clothing by women have already been imposed, activists and local residents say. Flyers circulated in one area asking women to wear burqas. The women from the extremely conservative rural regions are also striving for more education, more freedom of movement and a stronger role in their families, according to one current survey. A Taliban-led government would point in the other direction.
“No woman wants to fight, I just want to continue my education and stay far away from violence. But the circumstances made me and other women stand up, ”says a journalist in her early 20s from northern Juzdschan, who can look back on a long history of women fighting. She took part in a one-day weapons training session in the provincial capital, which is currently under siege. She asked not to be named in case the city falls into the hands of the Taliban.
“I don't want the country to be controlled by people who treat women the way they do. We took up arms to show that we will fight if we have to. ”She speaks of several dozen women who are learning how to use weapons with her. Despite their inexperience, they would have an advantage over men when they encounter the Taliban: “They are afraid that we will kill them. They think it's a shame. ”For conservative fighters, it can be humiliating to meet women in war. ISIS fighters in Syria were reportedly more afraid of to be killed by female Kurdish forces than before men.
As a district administrator at the front
It is rare, but not entirely new, for Afghan women to take up arms, especially in the less conservative regions of the country. Last year, the teenage girl Qamar Gul gained national fame after fighting back a group of Taliban who killed her parents. Among the fighters was her own husband.
In Baglan province, a woman named Bibi Aisha Habibi became the country's only warlord in the course of the Soviet invasion and the civil war that followed. She was known as "Kommandeurin Kaftar" or "Taube". In northern Balkh, 39-year-old Salima Mazari recently fought on the front in Charkint, where she also serves as district administrator. In addition, many women have joined the Afghan security forces in the past two decades, including helicopter training and despite the fact that they are exposed to discrimination and harassment from colleagues there and are very rarely used at the front.
These historical models were dismissed by the Taliban. They claim the demonstrations are propaganda and that men do not allow their women relatives to fight. “Women would never take up arms against us. They are helpless and are forced to do so by the defeated enemy, ”said a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid. "You can't fight."
The provincial governor of the Ghor region, Abdulzahir Faizzada, said in a telephone interview that many of the women who have now taken to the streets in the provincial capital Firozkoh have already fought against the Taliban and experienced violence from them. “The majority of these women were the ones who recently fled the Taliban-controlled regions. They have already experienced the war in their villages, have lost their sons and brothers, they are angry, ”he says. Faizzada adds that if the government in Kabul allowed it, he would train women on the gun who have no experience with it.
"Why shouldn't we defend ourselves?"
The Taliban's conservative rules are particularly unwelcome in Ghor. Here the women traditionally wear a headscarf instead of completely covering themselves with the burqa. And they worked alongside their husbands in the fields and in the villages, says Parastish. In the regions in Ghor they control, the Taliban forbid women to take care of the animals or the land, she adds. They had all-girls schools, ordered women not to leave their homes without male protection and even exclude them from wedding celebrations - on the grounds that these should only be attended by men.
Women from this region were among those who demonstrated. “More than a dozen women fled Allahyar in Shahrak district last week. They came to us and asked for weapons to fight for their country and their freedom. We have the same situation in the Charsadda region, ”says Parastish.
“The women say, 'We are being killed and injured without being able to defend ourselves. Why shouldn't we fight back? ' They tell us that at least two women in their area were in labor with no medical assistance nearby and who could not come. ”For the time being, she reports, the only thing holding them back is the men in power. "The governor said there was currently no use for us and that he would contact us."