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'Invisible' Afghan Women Protest Continued School Closure

Afghan women and girls protest in Kabul on May 26.

KABUL -- A group of women have staged a protest in Kabul against the continued closure of schools for girls above the sixth grade as a senior UN official has warned the Taliban's restrictions on women's rights are aimed at making women "invisible."

Girls have been banned from school beyond the sixth grade in most of Afghanistan since the Taliban's return to power in August 2021. In March, the Taliban ordered girls' high schools closed the morning they were scheduled to open.

The May 26 protest saw about 20 women and girls marched to the gate of Kabul's Maryam High School while calling on the Taliban to reopen schools.

"You took my bread and work, and I can't study," they shouted.

Some witnesses said that about 10 minutes into the protest, Taliban militants came and dispersed the women, firing shots into the air. One of the protesters told RFE/RL that three women were temporarily detained and then released after the Taliban verified their mobile phones.

Azir Ahmad Takour, a spokesman for he Taliban Interior Ministry, denied that the protest had been dispersed.

"This absolutely is propaganda. We have not stopped anyone from protesting today," he said.

Since taking power in the wake of the withdrawal of international troops from the war-torn country, the Taliban has pledged to rule differently than during its brutal regime of the 1990s that saw women confined to their homes, most entertainment banned, and punishments including stoning and public executions.

But its promises are being treated with skepticism by many Afghans and governments around the world, including Central Asia, especially since women have been forced from some government jobs and barred from traveling alone.

This month, Afghanistan's supreme leader and Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered women to cover up fully in public, including their faces.

The restrictions show a "pattern of absolute gender segregation and are aimed at making women invisible in the society," Richard Bennett, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, told reporters during a visit to Kabul on May 26.

"The de facto authorities have failed to acknowledge the magnitude and gravity of the abuses being committed, many of them in their name," Bennett said.

With reporting by AFP
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