Taliban ‘block unaccompanied women from flights’

Published March 27, 2022
Afghan women and girls stage protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Kabul on Saturday, demanding that high schools be reopened for girls.—AFP
Afghan women and girls stage protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Kabul on Saturday, demanding that high schools be reopened for girls.—AFP

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers refused to allow dozens of women to board several flights, including some overseas, because they were traveling without a male guardian, two Afghan airline officials said on Saturday, whereas dozens of girls demonstrated in the Afghan capital demanding the right to go to school.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from the Taliban, said dozens of women who arrived at Kabul’s international airport on Friday to board domestic and international flights were told they couldn’t do so without a male guardian.

Some of the women were dual nationals returning to their homes overseas, including some from Canada, according to one of the officials. Women were denied boarding on flights to Islamabad, Dubai and Turkey on Kam Air and the state-owned Ariana Airline, said the officials.

Girls, women hold protest in Kabul against school closure

The order came from the Taliban leadership, said one official.

By Saturday, some women traveling alone were given permission to board an Ariana Airlines flight to western Herat province, the official said. However, by the time the permission was granted they had missed their flight, he said.

The airport’s president and police chief, both from the Taliban movement and both Islamic clerics, were meeting on Saturday with airline officials. “They are trying to solve it,” the official said.

It was still unclear whether the Taliban would exempt air travel from an order issued months ago requiring women traveling more than 72 kilometres to be accompanied by a male relative.

Taliban officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Meanwhile, about two dozen girls and women chanting “open the schools” protested in the Afghan capital on Saturday against the Taliban’s decision to shut their secondary schools just hours after re-opening them this week.

Thousands of jubilant girls across Afghanistan had flocked to learning institutions on Wednesday — the date the education ministry had set for classes to resume.

But just hours into the first day, the ministry announced a shock policy reversal that left youngsters saying they felt betrayed and foreign governments expressing outrage.

“Open the schools! Justice, justice!” chanted protesters Saturday, some carrying schoolbooks as they gathered at a city square in Kabul.

They held banners that said: “Education is our fundamental right, not a political plan” as they marched for a short distance and later dispersed as Taliban fighters arrived at the scene.

The protest was the first held by women in weeks after the Taliban rounded up the ringleaders of initial demonstrations held after they returned to power in August.

The government has not given a clear reason for their decision, which came after a meeting late Tuesday of senior officials in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s de facto power centre and spiritual heartland.

It followed months of work by some foreign countries on a plan to support the payment of teachers’ wages.

Afghan secondary school girls have now been out of education for more than seven months.

Right to education

“Even Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said everyone has the right to education, but the Taliban have snatched this right from us,” said youngster Nawesa at the demonstration, which was organised by two women’s rights groups.

“The Taliban cannot oppress the women of Afghanistan,” said another protester, Laila Basim.

Since returning to power on August 15 the Taliban have rolled back two decades of gains made by the country’s women, who have been squeezed out of many government jobs, barred from travelling alone, and ordered to dress according to a strict interpretation of the Koran.

The Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have still been imposed — if not at the national level then implemented locally at the whim of regional officials.

Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the Taliban’s curbs, holding small protests where they demanded the right to education and work.

But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying that they had been detained.

Since their release, most have gone silent.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2022

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