Children’s laughter fills the air as they take in the sights and sounds of the bumper cars, Ferris wheels, and small rollercoasters at the amusement park in central Kabul.
They are accompanied by their fathers on the rides, or they watch and take photos. This is a rare moment of joy in Afghanistan, where so much of the news is grim.
However, mothers are not allowed to participate in the making of these memories. Taliban extremists ban women from visiting Kabul parks.
We visit the group and many of them are having a great time riding the horses.
A restaurant with a view of the park is where women are closest to the park. Recently, the capital banned women from going to gyms and swimming pools.
The rules are expected to be extended throughout the country.
Afghan women and girls are worried about what the Taliban will do next, as they limit their ability to do certain things.
Some argue that these changes don’t impact most of the country. However, the majority of people can afford an evening out.
It’s not about how big the impact is for Afghan girls but about the symbolism and what it tells us about the Taliban’s intentions since they took power in August 2021.
“Every day, Afghan girls wake up to new restrictions. “It’s almost like we’re just waiting for the next one,” a female student claims. She isn’t being named for her safety.
“I was very fortunate that I completed secondary school before Taliban came. But now I fear that universities might be closed for women. My dreams will end.”
After taking the university entrance exam, she was disappointed to learn that journalism was no longer offered to women. This is part of another set restrictions that the Taliban recently imposed.
“It’s hard to describe. “Sometimes you feel like screaming,” she says, her frustration evident in her voice. “I feel hopeless.”
As Afghanistan’s women are losing their space, many are trying to find ways around the Taliban’s control.
Laila Basim, activist, has co-founded a library that is open to women. It houses thousands of books in various languages, on different subjects.
“With this, they want to show Taliban women that Afghan women won’t remain silent. Our second aim is to expand the culture reading books among women, especially girls who are not deprived of education,” she said.
She is determined to protest against the men in her country. Since last year, she has participated in several protests.
“We do not fear death or the Taliban threatening our families. “What we fear most is being excluded from society,” she said.
She finds the increasing restrictions on women to be worrying and sad.
“It upsets me to think about all the freedoms we have lost. “The people of other nations are exploring Mars, but here we are still fighting to protect these basic rights,” she said.
Zarifa Yaghoubi, a woman’s rights activist, and three others were taken into custody a few weeks back. Despite numerous calls from UN and other agencies for their release, the Taliban have not responded.
Last week, twelve people, including three females were brutalized in front thousands of spectators at a football stadium located in Afghanistan.
Each move by the Taliban resembles the 1990s regime.
“The Taliban’s current policies remain the same as those of 20 years ago. Laila Basim states that we are trying to inform them that it is not acceptable in 21st century.
Just a short drive away from the library is the Taliban’s office of morality police. Its vice and virtue minister, which is another place where Afghan women can’t go, is also located.
“We keep a box at the gate, where women can leave their complaints.” Mohammad Akif Muhajer, spokesperson, said that the director of the gate visits women to show respect.
He defends his decision to ban female park users, claiming that Islamic Sharia law was not being applied.
“For fifteen months, we allowed our sisters to have fun going to the parks. While we had advised women to wear the hijab (headscarf) every day, some people were not following our instructions. “We had separate days for men & women to go to park, but that wasn’t being observed,” he said.
Mohammad Akif Muhajer answered a question about why they were cracking down against women protesting for their rights. He said, “In every nation anyone raising a voice to oppose government orders are arrested. Some of them have been even executed.
“We have not done this. Naturally, however, anyone who speaks against the national interest will be silenced.”
Their words and actions indicate a hardening in the Taliban’s views on women and any critics of their policies. This challenges their moderate image that they had tried to project since their retaken of power last year.
The young female student explained that “one day we might hear that women can’t leave the house any more.” “Everything is possible” in Afghanistan.
Afghan women also express disappointment with the international community.
Laila Basim claims that the world has turned its face on her. “Powerful people around the world support the women of Iran but not Afghanistan.”
“What happens with us is not even front page news. We feel broken, forgotten.