Afghan women are using a social media campaign to fight back against a strict new dress code for female students amid fears that the Taliban-led government will return to the strict interpretation of Islamic law that it employed during the militants' first time in power in the 1990s.
Many Afghans were taken aback when the Taliban imposed a strict new dress code for women students, prompting women to share pictures of themselves wearing colorful traditional dresses, using hashtags such as #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture. The Taliban-led government's edict, announced earlier this month, ordered female university students to wear a niqab -- an Islamic veil that covers the face – and abaya -- a loose-fitting and all-covering robe.
When the Taliban imposed its brutal rule on Afghanistan in 1996-2001, girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work and education.
After toppling the Western-backed government in Kabul a month ago, the hard-line Islamist group suggested it had changed, including in its attitude toward women and girls. The group also promised inclusiveness and a general amnesty for former opponents.
But many Afghans remain deeply fearful, especially after the militants formed an all-male government led by hard-line Taliban veterans, banned protests, and cracked down on demonstrators and journalists.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on September 14 called for the preservation of gains won by Afghan women and girls over the past two decades under a Western-backed government.
“Afghan women & girls want to ensure that the gains they have made are not lost, doors are not closed & hope is not extinguished,” Guterres said in a tweet.
“Safeguarding their rights – including access to education & other essential services - is central to the future of the country & every Afghan,” he added.
Guterres made the plea after the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, accused the Taliban of contradicting their promises on human rights, saying that “over the past three weeks, women have…been progressively excluded from the public sphere."
Addressing the Human Rights Council in the Swiss city of Geneva, Bachelet cited, among other things, "credible allegations of reprisal killings" of former members of the national security forces, as well as arbitrary detentions of people who worked for previous administrations, including some who were later "found dead."
Later on September 13, more than $1 billion in aid was pledged for Afghanistan at an international donors conference in Geneva amid warnings of a looming major humanitarian crisis.
The United Nations had estimated that more than $600 million was needed by the end of the year for the war-torn and drought-stricken country.
Afghanistan faced drought, displacement, and a humanitarian crisis even before the Taliban took control of the country, with half the population dependent on aid, according to the UN.
The world body said about a third of the money it had asked would be used by its World Food Program, which has said many Afghans did not have access to cash to afford sufficient food.
The financing would also provide for measures to support women and children and set up education projects. It could also be used to fund emergency shelters for an estimated 3.5 million people who are internally displaced.
Sporadic anti-Taliban rallies occasionally have ended in deadly clashes since the group's takeover on August 15.
On September 14, dozens of people reportedly protested in Kandahar after residents were asked to vacate a residential army colony, with footage from local media showing crowds blocking a road in the southern city.
Around 3,000 families were asked to leave the colony within three days, a former government official was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The Taliban did not immediately comment on the evictions or the protest.
Meanwhile, the Afghan ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva called on the UN Human Rights Council to "immediately dispatch a fact-finding mission to investigate and document abuse of human rights," including in Panjshir Valley, the last pocket of resistance to the Taliban's rapid takeover.
"Today, the world cannot and should not be silent as millions fear for their life and human rights, and humanitarian crises are unfolding in the country," said Nasir Ahmad Andisha, a member of the ousted government.
"The people of Afghanistan need action more than ever."
At a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee on September 13, Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the chaotic U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.
Blinken also said he would name a senior State Department official to focus on support for Afghan women, girls, and minorities.
He is scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee later on September 14.