Hundreds of armed women marched in the streets of northern and central Afghanistan in defiance of the Taliban, which has been making sweeping advances nationwide and taking control of large tracts of the country.

One of the biggest demonstrations was in central Ghor province, where hundreds of women demonstrated during the weekend, waving guns, sharing pictures of themselves with assault rifles on social media and chanting anti-Taliban slogans, The Guardian reported.

“There were some women who just wanted to inspire security forces, but many more were ready to go to the battlefields. I and some other women told the governor around a month ago that we’re ready to go and fight,” Halima Parastish, head of the women’s directorate in Ghor and one of the marchers, told The Guardian.

The Taliban has launched major assaults, its most recent on Qala-i-Naw, the capital of Badghis province. They seized the police headquarters and offices of the country's spy agency. Many other provincial capitals are under siege.

Areas controlled by the Taliban are seeing a large rollback to women’s rights. Restrictions on women’s education, their freedom of movement and their clothing are already being put in place, activists and residents of those areas say.

Before the Taliban gained control of her native Zendeh Jan district in western Afghanistan, Nadia (name changed) used to teach grown women how to read and write, and would hold workshops for their husbands on women’s rights. That changed when insurgents tried killing her not far from her home.

“We are threatened, we are banned from our activities, we are not authorized to work,” she told Time.

According to a new survey on Afghanistan women, even those from extremely conservative rural areas have “expressed a longing for greater freedom of movement, education for their children (and sometimes themselves) and a greater role in their families and wider social circles.”

It is unlikely that these large armed demonstrations will lead to women’s involvement in the military fight against the Taliban due to social conservatism and lack of experience. However, their voice is a reminder of what the Taliban rule could mean to them and their families.

There is palpable fear that hard-fought women's rights will be lost in Afghanistan
There is palpable fear that hard-fought women's rights will be lost in Afghanistan AFP / Arun SANKAR