The young women stepped off the bus and moved toward the protest march just beginning on the other side of the street when they were spotted by a mob of men.
“Get out of here, you whores!” the men shouted. “Get out!”
The women scattered as the men moved in.
“We want our rights!” one of the women shouted, turning to face them. “We want equality!”
The women ran to the bus and dove inside as it rumbled away, with the men smashing the taillights and banging on the sides.
But the march continued anyway. About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.
It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.
The women who protested Wednesday began their demonstration with what appeared to be a deliberately provocative act. They gathered in front of the School of the Last Prophet, a madrasa run by Ayatollah Asif Mohsini, the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric. He and the scholars around him played an important role in the drafting of the new law.
“We are here to campaign for our rights,” one woman said into a loudspeaker. Then the women held their banners aloft and began to chant.
The reaction was immediate. Hundreds of students from the madrasa, most but not all of them men, poured into the streets to confront the demonstrators.
“Death to the enemies of Islam!” the counterdemonstrators cried, encircling the women. “We want Islamic law!”
The women stared ahead and kept walking.
A phalanx of police officers, some of them women, held the crowds apart.
As Spackerman (h/t) rhetorically asks, “What have you done recently that’s half as brave?”
Related: In an interview with Afghan women’s rights activist Soraya Pakzad, Jean MacKenzie puts the controversy surrounding the Afghan ‘rape law’ in context:
The reality is that no Afghan woman, Shi’ia or Sunni, has the right to object to her husband’s advances. The international outcry, while well meaning, misses the point: It is not a single law that is the problem, it is the overall status of women.
As they say, read the whole damn thing.