Afghan activists protest outside shuttered women affairs ministry


(Reuters) - About two dozen women activists protested outside Afghanistan's women's ministry on Sunday after it was closed by Taliban militants in power in Kabul and replaced by their Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Female staff said they had been trying to return to work at the ministry for several weeks since the Taliban takeover last month, only to be told to go home.

The sign outside the Ministry of Women's Affairs has been replaced by one for the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

"The Ministry of Women's Affairs must be reactivated," said Baseera Tawana, one of the protesters outside the building. "The removal of women means the removal of human beings."

When Taliban Islamists were in power from 1996-2001, girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work and education.

During that period, the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice became known as the group's moral police, enforcing its interpretation of sharia that includes a strict dress code and public executions and floggings.

The protest came a day after some girls returned to primary schools with gender-segregated classes, but older girls faced an anxious wait with no clarity over if and when they would be able to resume their studies.

"You cannot suppress the voice of Afghan women by keeping girls at home and restricting them, as well as by not allowing them to go to school," said protester Taranum Sayeedi.

"The woman of Afghanistan today are not the woman of 26 years ago."

Taliban officials have said they will not return to their fundamentalist policies, including the ban on girls receiving an education.

(Reporting by Islamabad newsroom; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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