ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Taliban officials have announced that women and girls should stay at home and, if they venture outside, cover themselves in loose clothing that only reveals their eyes – preferably a burqa.
The restrictions on women’s movement and clothing are the toughest announced by the Taliban since they came to power in August. This suggested the growing dominance of the group’s hardline leaders, who appear to be behind the prolonged ban on most women and girls from attending secondary school.
Saturday’s announcement seemed to confirm the fears of many Afghans that the Taliban will remain unchanged after two decades without power. When the Taliban last ruled – from 1996 to 2001 – they also imposed severe restrictions on women’s dress and movement and kept most girls out of school.
The news was greeted with dismay by some Afghan women.
“So much pain and sorrow for the women of my country, my heart is exploding,” tweeted Shaharzad Akbarthe former head of a major Afghan human rights group, who now lives in exile.
Rules would mean punishment for a woman’s male guardian
The directive on the dress of pubescent women and girls came from the Taliban’s Acting Minister for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a known hardliner, Khaled Hanafi.
“We want our sisters to live in dignity and security,” he said.
However, it was not clear what – if any – legislative steps the directive still needed to go through to be implemented. Afghanistan’s state-run Bakhtar News Agency described it as a bill that had been “endorsed and implemented” by Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.
“This is just one more step towards the dominance of these truly backward and out of touch elements of the Taliban,” he said. Ashley Jacksonthe co-director of the Center for the Study of Armed Groups based in Kenya, where she focuses on the Taliban.
“I think it also symbolizes the ascendancy of that base in Virtue Ministry, which in the 1990s played an equally outsized role.”
The Bakhtar news agency said the rules would be gradually implemented, through preaching and persuasion first – and then with punishment.
It is not the woman who will be punished, but her male guardians. His brother, father, husband or son will be responsible for enforcing the rules, and they will be held accountable if she challenges them. The penalties would range from several days in jail to be fired from their jobs.
This turns Afghan women into minors in the eyes of Taliban officials, said Heather Barre from Human Rights Watch.
“The Taliban is really taking a very big step in terms of removing the autonomy that is still left to women and girls,” she said.
“They’re creating a situation where it’s not even up to the women and girls themselves to decide whether they’re going to stand up to the Taliban on this, what kinds of risks they’re willing to take with their security because those are the male family members who are at risk, not them.”
Rules could affect Taliban’s quest for international recognition
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan condemned the directive, saying it “contradicts numerous assurances” that the Taliban would respect the human rights of Afghan women and girls over the past decade.
“These assurances were repeated after the Taliban took power in August 2021, that women would benefit from their rights, whether in work, education or society in general.”
It also complicates the Taliban’s efforts to gain international recognition – even if it makes it more difficult for the international community to work with the Taliban to alleviate a humanitarian crisis across the country.
the The UN estimates that 93% of all Afghans do not have enough to eat.and just over 8 million people are at risk of starvation.