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For Afghan Woman, Life Under The Taliban Is Taking Shape

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Day by day, women in Afghanistan have been learning they are less free. The Taliban, who captured Kabul last month, made some early vague gestures toward respecting women's rights. But now that they've established a government, their rules are more specific, and many women feel the freedoms they gained in the last 20 years are fading. NPR's Arezou Rezvani has been talking with Afghan women.

AREZOU REZVANI, BYLINE: Just a couple of months ago, 28-year-old Shahrzad Mustafavi was a legal adviser for a World Bank-funded project. She was also running a company she founded that exported dried fruit to Dubai and India. For now, that life is on hold.

SHAHRZAD MUSTAFAVI: (Through interpreter) Since the Taliban came to Kabul, I'm home just like other Afghan women.

REZVANI: And like other Afghan women, Shahrzad refuses to stay silent.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

REZVANI: Over the last several weeks, women across Afghanistan have protested the Taliban's steady stream of restrictions. So far, working women have been ordered to stay home. They've been excluded from government positions. They are banned from playing sports. The Taliban says women and girls can continue their education, but classrooms will be gender-segregated, Islamic dress strictly enforced, and subjects are now under review.

MUSTAFAVI: (Through interpreter) I think the situation will get worse. Maybe in the beginning, they will give the right for education, but slowly, the situation will deteriorate badly. And I think all the Afghan women will be confined to home.

REZVANI: The prospect of turning back the clock to a time when women disappeared under burqas and were virtually erased from public spaces is why women are protesting. It's also why Mahbooba Seraj, a prominent women's rights advocate in Kabul, is urging women to get better organized.

MAHBOOBA SERAJ: Like having our banners ready, having our speakers, you know, ready, saying where we are going to get together, where the groups are coming and then what we're going to wear because the clothes that we are going to wear is very important. That should be a statement by itself also.

REZVANI: But protest organizers may never get that far. The Taliban government now requires a permit for demonstrations. Without it, they say, they're free to crack down. Protest organizer Mahboba, who wants to use only her first name for fear of retribution, says she and other group leaders are exploring their options.

MAHBOBA: (Through interpreter) Because of the new measures the Taliban has issued, we may have to take our movement indoors. We plan to demand for justice through resolutions and conferences, but we think there is little time left

REZVANI: Megaphone or microphone, all of this comes with great risk. No form of dissent was tolerated under the Taliban in the '90s, and the group has gone after female protesters, beating women, flogging them, aiming their guns at them. Still, none of this has scared protesters like 24-year-old Sudabeh Kabiri, who was a student at Kabul's American University until the Taliban took over. In fact, she believes the Taliban will eventually have to come around.

SUDABEH KABIRI: (Through interpreter) They know that they are faced today with talented, educated, experienced women, and the Taliban are afraid of this. These mullahs, their place is at the mosques or Ministry of Religious Affairs. They are not experts at running the government. They need us.

REZVANI: So far, there seems to be little change in the Taliban's attitude towards women. Schools reopened for boys over the weekend. Middle school and high school girls are still at home. The Ministry of Women's Affairs has now been replaced with the Ministry of Vice and Virtue. It is an echo to the past when morality police patrolled the streets, enforcing dress codes and male chaperones under a strict interpretation of Islamic law. It is also a troubling sign that the future some Afghan women want may be slipping away.

Arezou Rezvani, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SALAR NADER AND MUKHTOR MUBORAKQADOMOV'S "RUBOYAT-I VANJ (RUBAYAT OF VANJ)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.