KABUL (REUTERS) – Monesa Mubarez is not going to give up the rights she and other Afghan women won during 20 years of Western-backed rule easily.
Before the hardline Taliban movement swept back to power a year ago, the 31-year-old served as a director of policy monitoring at the finance ministry.
She was one of many women, mostly in big cities, who won freedoms that a former generation could not have dreamt of under the Taliban’s previous rule in the late 1990s.
Now Mubarez has no job, after the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law severely limited women’s ability to work, required them to dress and act conservatively and closed secondary schools to girls across the country.
Under the new government, there are no women in the Cabinet and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been shut down.
“One war ended, but the battle to find a rightful place for Afghan women has started … we will raise our voice against every injustice until the last breath,” said Mubarez, who is among the most prominent campaigners in the capital Kabul.
Despite the risk of beatings and detention by Taliban members patrolling the streets in the weeks after the Western-backed government was toppled, she took part in several protests that broke out, determined to protect her hard-fought rights.
Those demonstrations have died down – the last one Mubarez took part in was on May 10.
But she and others meet in homes in private acts of defiance, discussing women’s rights and encouraging people to join the cause. Such gatherings would have been virtually unthinkable the last time the Taliban governed Afghanistan.
During one such meeting at her home in July, Mubarez and a group of women sat in a circle on the floor, spoke about their experiences and chanted words including “food”, “work” and”freedom” as if they were at an outdoor rally.
“We fight for our own freedom, we fight for our rights and status, we work for no country, organisation or spy agency. This is our country, this is our homeland, and we have every right to live here,” she told Reuters.
The country representative for UN Women in Afghanistan, Alison Davidian, said stories like Mubarez’s are being repeated across the country.
“For many women across the world, walking outside the front door of your home is an ordinary part of life,” she said. “For many Afghan women, it is extraordinary. It is an act of defiance.”