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Veiled protest: Afghan women rally in support of the Taliban


KABUL: On Saturday, Afghan women wearing full-face veils sat in rows in a Kabul university lecture hall, pledging their commitment to the Talibanhard-line policies on gender segregation.
Some 300 women, covered from head to toe in accordance with strict new dress-for-education policies, waved Taliban flags as speakers criticized the West and expressed support for the Islamists’ policies.
A handful wore blue burqas, which only have a small mesh window for viewing, but most wore black niqabs that covered most of the face except the eyes.
Many also wore black gloves.
The rights of women in Afghanistan were severely restricted under the Taliban rule from 1996-2001, but since they returned to power last month, they have claimed they will implement a less extreme rule.
This time around, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban education authority said.
They must also wear an abaya and niqab robe.
The women, who according to the organizers were students, listened to a series of speeches in Shaheed Rabbani University of Education in the capital, Kabul.
Large Taliban flags flanked the podium, as speakers criticized women who have protested across Afghanistan in recent days.
They also defended the new government from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which has prohibited demonstrations unless permission is granted by the Ministry of Justice.
Daud Haqqani, director of foreign affairs at the Ministry of Education, said the protest was organized by the women, who had asked for and obtained permission to demonstrate.
“We are against those women who are protesting in the streets, claiming that they are representative of women,” said the first speaker, covered from head to toe.
“Is it freedom to like the last government? No, it is not freedom. The last government was abusing women. They were recruiting women just because of their beauty,” he said.
Some in the audience were holding babies, who occasionally cried during speeches, while others were girls clearly too young for college.
A student named Shabana Omari he told the crowd that he agreed with the Taliban’s policy that women should cover their heads.
“Those who do not wear the hijab hurt us all,” she said, referring to the headscarves worn by many Muslim women.
“The hijab is not an individual thing.”
Omari concluded his speech by leading a chorus of “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is the greatest”.
Another speaker, Somaiya, said that history had changed since the Taliban returned.
“After this, we will not see ‘bihijabi’ (people who do not wear veils),” he said.
“Women will be safe after this. We are supporting our government with all our might.”
After the speeches in the meeting room, the women walked in organized lines a short distance down the street, holding printed banners and flanked by Taliban soldiers carrying rifles and machine guns.
The public demonstration contrasts sharply with scenes in Kabul and elsewhere earlier in the week, when Taliban fighters fired into the air to disperse a series of protests against their government, shooting two people dead.
“The women who left Afghanistan cannot represent us,” said one pro-taliban banner Saturday read.
“We are satisfied with the attitude and behavior of the Mujahideen (Taliban),” read another.
The Taliban say they want to distance themselves from the harsher policies of yesteryear, when half the population was excluded from work and education.
Under the new rules, women can work “according to the principles of Islam,” the Taliban have decreed, but few details have yet been released on what exactly that might mean.

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