Male protests 2023: Driven by scarcity, restricted by risk
2023 saw Afghan men engaging in protests driven predominantly by economic concerns, but also in solidarity with women and minorities, risking their personal safety and financial security
9 Jan 2024
Image: The tailor’s protest in Herat, 22 November 2023. Source: X
Though Afghan men have not been stripped of their rights to the same extent as women since the Taliban retook power in 2021, they still exist in a precarious situation under Taliban rule. In 2023, AW witnessed fewer male-led demonstrations relative to those that were female-led, men tended to protest when they were affected by the Taliban’s sudden economic policy changes, as well as in solidarity with women and minorities.
Protests driven by economic concerns
In November 2023, scores of men and women in Herat protested the forced closure of men’s tailor shops that produced clothing for women. AW was able to geolocate the protest to outside of the Taliban governor’s office (see below). As was previously done in Mazar-i-Sharif, the Taliban ruled that men sewing or working on clothing for women was prohibited, and allegedly gave the tailors in Herat one week’s warning before forcibly closing the shops.
Figure: Geolocation of the tailor’s protest in Herat [34.348433, 62.216552].
In April and May 2023, Afghan men in Nangarhar and Badakhshan also participated in economic-related protests against the Taliban; in these cases, men were protesting the Taliban’s policy banning poppy cultivation. The Taliban’s supreme leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada prohibited the practice in April 2022, which exacerbated pre-existing scarcity in Afghanistan and proved devastating for rural farmers and communities who relied on the crop for income. The protests in Nangarhar and Badakhshan both reportedly resulted in civilian and Taliban deaths and injuries.
Throughout the year, Afghan men also protested against the unlawful seizure of agricultural and residential land. Hazara, Uzbek, Tajik and other minority lands were reportedly seized by nomadic Pashtun tribes, leading to protests in Badghis, Baglan, Parwan, Faryab, Sar-e Pol, Takhar, Badakhshan, and likely other provinces too.
Demonstrations against the Taliban also took place in Nurgaram City, in Nuristan, in May 2023. AW verified and geolocated a series of videos shared by Afghanistan International on X (formerly Twitter), in which residents are seen gathering and chanting slogans against the Taliban, claiming they had been mistreated and discriminated against due to their ethnicity. People seen in the videos also claimed that employees of the former government had been subjected to torture by the Taliban.
Protests in solidarity with women and minorities
The most recent example of men protesting in Afghanistan occurred in Herat in early December 2023, following the targeted killings of Shia scholars. In this protest, thousands of men, mainly Shias, took to the streets and called for the protection of Afghanistan’s Shia community, and the punishment of those responsible for the targeted killings of Shia scholars in recent months.
Men in Afghanistan also engaged in protests in response to Taliban violations against women. In August 2023, for example, men protested alongside women when the governor of Faryab province was allegedly involved in the forced marriage of a 13-year-old Turkmen girl to her Uzbek brother-in-law. In this case, local sources told AW that five men were arrested for participating in the protests and sharing videos with the media.
Similarly, in February 2023, a university professor was arrested in Kabul for protesting the Taliban’s December 2022 ban on women receiving post-secondary education. The Taliban accused Ismail Mashal of “provocative actions against the regime”. In solidarity with female students, Mashal protested alongside hundreds of male professors and students; he also shut down the private university he managed and tore up his degree on live TV. Mashal was hospitalised upon release from prison in March 2023, reportedly vomiting blood and suffering from mental health issues.
On rare occasions, men employed methods similar to those used by women to protest in Afghanistan. On 16 October 2023, two LGBTQIA+ men, who claimed to be living secretly in Afghanistan, staged an online, indoor demonstration to draw attention to the plight of their community living under the Taliban regime. In a video shared by Rainbow Afghanistan, an organisation that fights for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people in the country, two men with their faces obscured urge the international community to pay attention to the situation that women and the LGBTQIA+ community face in Afghanistan, labelling it gender apartheid.
While there are additional examples of men protesting in 2023, including nationwide protests in January 2023 against the burning of a Quran in Sweden, and an October 2023 rally in Kabul calling for jihad in Palestine, these demonstrations were not explicitly denouncing the Taliban or its policies. Rather, they appeared to have, at least implicit, Taliban support.
Male protestors have much to lose
It appears that Afghan mens' primary driver for engaging in protests in 2023 was economic – usually in response to sudden policy changes and land seizures, often in an effort to combat growing scarcity. Like women, men have been beaten, killed or jailed for participating in protests. However, as restrictions on women's movement and economic activity have increased under Taliban rule, men are often the sole earners in their family, and their injury, death, or imprisonment could risk not only their own, but also their family's financial and physical security.