‘Proud and strong’: Afghan student stages solo protest against university ban

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An 18-year-old Afghan student endured Taliban taunts and insults at the weekend as she staged a solo protest against the ban on women attending university.

“For the first time in my life, I felt so proud, strong and powerful because I was standing against them and demanding a right that God has given us,” Marwa told AFP, asking not to be further identified.

Women-led protests have become increasingly rare in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s return - particularly after the detention of core activists at the start of the year.

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Participants risk arrest, violence and social stigma.

But Marwa was adamant.

Her sister shot a video of the silent protest with a phone from a car as Marwa held up a poster just meters from the entrance to the Kabul University campus, the country’s biggest and most prestigious institution.

In their latest assault on women’s rights, the Taliban last week banned university education for women, prompting international outrage.

Some women have tried to protest the ban, but they have been swiftly dispersed.

On Sunday, in front of Taliban guards deployed at the Kabul University gates, Marwa courageously carried a placard that read “Iqra,” the Arabic word for “read.”

“They said really bad things to me, but I stayed calm,” she said.

“I wanted to show the power of a single Afghan girl, and that even one person can stand against oppression.”

“When my other sisters (women students) see that a single girl has stood against the Taliban, it will help them rise and defeat the Taliban,” Marwa said.

While the Taliban promised a softer form of rule when they returned to power in August last year, they have instead imposed harsh restrictions on women - effectively squeezing them out of public life.

On Saturday, authorities ordered all aid groups to stop women employees from coming to work.

Secondary schools for girls have been closed for over a year, while many women who lost their government jobs are being paid a fraction of their salary to stay at home.

Women have also been barred from going to parks, gyms and public baths.

The Taliban say the restrictions are because women are not observing a strict Islamic dress code, including wearing hijabs.
The country has become a prison for women, said Marwa, who dreams of becoming a painter.

“I don’t want to be imprisoned. I have big dreams which I want to achieve,” she said.

“That’s why I decided to protest.”

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