‘They cannot hold the girls back,’ Afghan women’s rights activist says of Taliban rule

The Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan has precipitated a severe rollback of women’s rights, but journalist and activist Mahbouba Seraj believes that the push for gender equality in her home country is an unstoppable force that will eventually triumph over the seemingly immovable resistance of the new government.

“Afghanistan is not the same Afghanistan that they came to 20 years ago,” Seraj told CBC’s Susan Ormiston during an interview in the capital Kabul. “We are no longer a country that the women have no voices.”

WATCH | ‘They have to go to school. Period,’ Seraj says: 

‘They have to go to school. Period,’ Afghan women’s rights activist says

Mahbouba Seraj, the head of the Afghan Women’s Network, discusses what the Taliban’s return to power means for women and girls in Afghanistan with CBC’s Susan Ormiston. 0:35

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, women were banned from working and girls from attending school. The group carried out public executions and enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Seraj, the head of the Afghan Women’s Network who was recently recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, has been carefully watching how the Taliban have been governing when it comes to women.

And although the Taliban have been restricting previously enjoyed rights — such as segregating universities by sex, breaking up protests calling for equality at gunpoint and banning women from playing cricket — Seraj says pressure from within and outside Afghanistan will force them to capitulate.

PHOTOS | Scenes of daily life for women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule:

“The Taliban don’t have much time to really sit down and think and dwell and rethink,” Seraj said, referring to major economic problems facing the group due to sanctions and a lack of international recognition for their government.

“The world is going to make a decision whether to recognize the Taliban or not, and a whole lot of it depends on their actions,” particularly on keeping schools accessible to girls, she said. “They cannot hold the girls back.”

Seraj noted that some women are afraid of retaliation from the Taliban, but many are also ready to use their voices that they found in the past 20 years.

“If they think for one second that we are not going to raise our voices — we are not going to ask for our rights, we are not going to stand for what belongs to us to be ours — then that’s when they are wrong,” she said.

“There is nobody in this world that can stand in front of them and say, ‘You don’t have the right to do that.'”

WATCH | Taliban wrong to doubt resiliency of Afghan women, Seraj says:

Taliban is wrong to doubt resiliency of Afghan women, activist says

Mahbouba Seraj, the head of the Afghan Women’s Network, tells CBC’s Susan Ormiston that women in Afghanistan will stand up for their rights despite the Taliban’s return to power. 0:55

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