Female hunger strikers face criticism, denial, and hate speech online
While the protest garnered widespread support on social media, the women involved were also targeted with a range of criticism and hate speech.
20 Sept 2023
© Nikola Nastasic via Canva.com A number of women’s rights activists including Tamana Zaryab Paryani, who was previously detained after participating in an anti-Taliban protest in January 2022, launched a 12-day hunger strike on September 1, 2023, in Germany, Pakistan and Norway.
Paryani stated in a post on X (formerly Twitter): “From September 1st to September 12th, my colleagues & I will commence a hunger strike. Should the world persist in ignoring and dismissing this protest, our strike will endure until the point of death.”
The women’s rights activists demanded recognition of ‘gender apartheid’ in Afghanistan, the cessation of financial support and official visits to Taliban officials, and the immediate release of political prisoners. On September 11, Paryani posted on her X account that they would share the results of their negotiations with the German government and representatives of the UN with the media in a press conference, indicating their demands were directed at the UN and German authorities.
In solidarity with Paryani and her colleagues, a number of other women protestors also announced a hunger strike in Afghanistan’s Takhar and Badakhshan provinces on September 10, according to reports. Additionally, five women’s rights activists in Pakistan reportedly went on a hunger strike on September 5. The activists said that the Pakistani police prevented them from setting up a camp in the city, while Paryani and other strikers had set up a camp in Cologne, Germany. In Norway, two women’s rights activists also went on a hunger strike.
Gender-based hate speech towards campaigners
While the women received widespread support on social media, they were also targeted with a range of criticism and hate speech from what appear to be pro-Taliban accounts. When searching for "تمنا زریاب پریانی" OR "تمنا پریانی" OR #12Hungerstrike (versions of Tamana Zaryab Paryani, an associated hashtag) there have been over 9500 mentions during the past 30 days, as of September 12.
Many of the tweets supported an end to ‘gender apartheid’ within Afghanistan, however the negative reaction to the campaign highlights attitudes towards female campaigners in the pro-Taliban online community.
Pro-Taliban X users posted a range of replies to the threads on the hunger strike, which tended to criticise the women, undermine their aims, or praise the Taliban. Notably, many of the responses came when campaigners posted in either Dari/Farsi or Pashto. Examples of these are included below:
(Meaning ‘whore women’)
Other interesting aspects of gender-based hate speech can be found in the responses. One user calls the protesting women “project takers”, a term referring to women who participate in projects for money that have little tangible effect on the ground.
AW detected that the account seems to be a troll account with a focus on female users, and insults them as seen in the example below:
Context: ‘Gender persecution’ and ‘apartheid’
Paryani and several of the other female protesters who were on hunger strike have been previously detained by the Taliban for taking part in protests against the group’s increasing restrictions on women.
Since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, the situation for women has worsened. The group has issued restrictions on women’s access to education, employment, and public spaces. In May 2023, UN experts expressed concern over the "apparent perpetration in Afghanistan of gender persecution" and called it "a systematic and grave human rights violation and a crime against humanity". The UN also recommended that theinternational community develop "further normative standards and tools to address the broader phenomenon of gender apartheid as an institutionalised system of discrimination, segregation, humiliation and exclusion of women and girls".
Other human rights groups have also called for an investigation of the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls as possible crimes under international law, including the crimes against humanity of gender persecution, although ‘gender apartheid’ has not been defined under international law as yet.