KABUL: The Taliban halted a blood donation drive by women activists to mark International Women’s Day on Tuesday, activists said.
Afghanistan generally marked the women’s day in a muted fashion, with activists cowed by the threat of arrest or detention by the regime.
Speaking outside a Kabul hospital with seven other activists, Monesa Mubarez, the head of a women’s rights movement, said the group had intended to stage a protest.
However, because of the Taliban’s crackdown on women’s rights protesters, they decided to donate blood instead.
The drive was thwarted by the Taliban-appointed hospital director at Jumhuriat Hospital in Kabul when hospital staff learned it was to mark women’s day, she said.
“They saw it as a protest,” Mubarez said.
She said coordination had been made beforehand, “but when we came here to start our campaign, the head of the hospital, who is one of the (Taliban) didn’t give us permission”, she said.
“Attempts to convince the city’s central blood bank were also futile. They also didn’t give us permission, so our campaign was stopped,” she said.
Since returning to power on August 15 the Taliban have generally rolled back two decades of gains made by the country’s women, who have been squeezed out of government employment, barred from traveling alone, and ordered to dress according to a strict interpretation of Islam.
“The Taliban have taken away the sky as well as the ground from us,” said an activist from the Woman’s Unity and Solidarity Group, asking not to be named.
While the Taliban have promised a softer version of the Islamist rule as compared to their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, restrictions have been creeping in — if not at the national level, then implemented locally at the level of regional officials.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back strongly against Taliban restrictions, holding small demonstrations and protests where they demanded the right to education and work. But the Taliban soon rounded up several of the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado even while denying they had been detained. Since their release, most have gone silent.
The Taliban at least acknowledged International Women’s Day, with the foreign ministry calling it “auspicious”, adding they would be provided with “an honorable and beneficial life in light of the noble religion of Islam and our accepted traditions”.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, tweeted the day was “a great opportunity for our Afghan women to demand their legitimate rights” — even though protests are banned unless permission is given.
Behind the walls of the sprawling United Nations compound on the outskirts of Kabul, an exhibition jointly organized by the UN and the Afghan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry showcased goods made by local female-owned businesses.
“It’s a hope and a positive thing,” said Tayeba Mashal, 47, owner of a firm that bears her name.
“We are hopeful that the women who are hiding in their homes because of the fear of insecurity will rise again in the society, resume their work, and resume their activities.”
No other major public events were planned on Tuesday by women’s groups, although one said members would mark the occasion by releasing balloons.
“Because of the restrictions imposed on us, we could not do it (collectively),” a Woman’s Unity and Solidarity Group member said.