KABUL: The Taliban on Saturday imposed some of the harshest restrictions on Afghanistan’s women since they seized power, ordering them to cover fully in public, ideally with the traditional burqa.

Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada approved a strict dress code for women when they are in public. A decree said the best way for a woman to cover her face and body was to wear the chadari, a traditional, blue, all-covering Afghan burqa.

“They should wear a chadari as it is traditional and respectful,” said the decree approved by Akhundzada and released by Taliban authorities at a ceremony in Kabul.

“Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes, as per shariah directives, in order to avoid provocation when meeting men who are not mahram (adult close male relatives),” it said.

Violation of decree by Taliban may cost women their jobs

The decree also stated that if women had no important work outside, then it was “better they stay home”.

Punishments

The Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which released the new order, also announced a slew of punishments if the dress code was not followed. It said a woman’s father or male guardian would be summoned and could even be imprisoned if the offence was committed repeatedly.

Women working in government institutions who did not follow the order “should be fired”, the ministry added.

Government employees whose wives and daughters do not comply would also be suspended from their jobs, the decree said.

The new restrictions are expected to spark a flurry of condemnation abroad, as after taking back control of the country in August last year, the Taliban had promised a softer rule than their previous stint in power between 1996 and 2001, which was marked by human rights abuses.

But they already imposed a slew of restrictions on women — banning them from many government jobs, secondary education, and from travelling alone outside their cities — besides the latest decree on dress code.

Many in the international community want humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and recognition of the Taliban government to be linked to the restoration of women’s rights.

‘Regressive’

During their first regime, the Taliban made the burqa compulsory for women. Since their return to power, the much-feared ministry issued several “guidelines” on dress but Saturday’s edict is one of the harshest restrictions on women.

“I believe the Taliban are becoming regressive instead of being progressive. They are going back to the way they were in their previous regime,” said a women’s rights activist who asked not to be named. Another women’s rights activist, Muska Dastageer, said Taliban rule had triggered “too much rage and disbelief”.

“We are a broken nation forced to endure assaults we cannot fathom. As a people we are being crushed,” she said on Twitter.

The hardline group triggered international outrage in March when they ordered secondary schools for girls to shut, just hours after they reopened for the first time since their seizure of power.

Officials have never justified the ban, apart from saying girls’ education must be according to “Islamic principles”. That ban was also issued by Akhundzada, according to several Taliban officials.

Women have also been ordered to visit parks in the capital on separate days from men.

Some Afghan women initially pushed back strongly against the restrictions, holding small demonstrations where they demanded the right to education and work. But the Taliban cracked down on these unsanctioned rallies and rounded up several of the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.

Many women already wear the burqa in rural areas.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2022

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