A group of Afghan women secretly held a press conference in a Kabul suburb on August 28.
The secrecy is understandable.
Selective invitations were sent to journalists in the Afghan media. However, nobody turned up.
“These media men are so afraid of the Taliban. I don’t know. Women are not as afraid of the Taliban as the men,” Sudaba Kabiri told me, in a voice note she randomly sends me when I try to reach her on WhatsApp with my journalistic queries.
Kabiri was one of the five key activists behind the press conference. She was also one of five brave young women, in their mid-20s, who held the first public demonstration against the Taliban, a day after the fall of Kabul.
Not only did Afghan journalists stay away, citing possible reprisals, the Afghan media largely ignored the press conference, when the organisers sent them video footage. TOLO channel was perhaps an exception.
“They wanted us to send them the footage. Still, nobody covered our press conference. In fact, even the restaurants refused to rent us space for [it],’ said Kabiri.
I dished out a voice note on Sunday evening, asking why the women wanted to hold this press conference. A reply reached me Monday evening: “To counter the Taliban decree banning women from work at least for six months.”
But the press conference was also a discreet launching of the newly formed Afghan Women’s Fighting Movement (Junbash-e-Mobarz Zanan-e-Afghan).
While the Afghan media refused to cover the press conference, the news went viral on social media. Notable Afghan social media users shared the picture of these brave women, who have electrified the entire country.
Likewise, the BBC Persian and the BBC Pashto services also covered the event. Meanwhile, a group of Iranian film makers have also contacted the group, wanting to do a documentary on the struggle of these feloniously brave women.
The following statement was read out at the press conference:
“Women are the founders of peace, humanity and progress! Following the recent developments, the Afghan Women’s Fighting Movement was formed, in order to defend the human rights and women’s rights.
Brave women have joined the organisation as members and are actively engaging in this process throughout Afghanistan.
In order to defend the status of Afghan women who constitute half the society, we want to raise the following demands in view of the recent very scary developments:
1: Afghan women call on the new leadership to ensure that the fundamental rights of women are protected and respected;
2: Afghan women want to participate, and have the right to participate, in the negotiations for the formation of the new government;
3: The Afghan Women’s Fighting Movement calls for effective and meaningful membership of women's rights defenders in the Loya Jirga (Kandahar) [The Grand Assembly of the Tribes, Kandhar] and all the future political processes;
4: Afghan women want to end an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty as soon as possible, and to create a safe and acceptable environment for all sections of the society;
5: Afghan women want an inclusive government, without any discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, race or language;
6: The Afghan Women’s Fighting Movement calls on the new leadership to allow working women to resume their work in every department at the earliest [time];
7: Afghan women demand the reopening of education institutions across Afghanistan, without any restrictions on women;
8: Afghan women should have the right to participate in social, economic and cultural activities without any restrictions;
9: According to the fatwas of the Ulema [religious scholars] of the Islamic world, it is not permissible for Muslims to fight their fellow Muslims, therefore, we, the Afghan women, support the respected Ulema in their promotion of a culture of peace and mutual acceptance. We also want them to continue their efforts to preserve national unity and mutual tolerance;
10: Concerned about the current situation and the uncertain future, Afghan women are calling on the new leadership to uphold and support freedom of expression, taking into account existing values;
11: Afghan women call on the new leadership to abide by its declaration of general amnesty and to prevent irresponsible and biased individuals from violating and abusing these principles;
12: The Afghan women call on the international community to continue its cooperation with the Afghan people in order to maintain the existing achievements and improve the situation in Afghanistan.”
[Farooq Sulehria is a leftist writer and academic based in Pakistan.]