As yet another sign that the Taliban’s voices about respecting women’s rights were all hot air, Afghan leaders imposed a harsh new rule.
The Taliban on Saturday imposed some of the strictest restrictions on Afghan women since taking power, ordering them to cover themselves completely in public, ideally with the traditional burqa.
The militants took back control of the country in August last year, promising a softer rule than their previous stint in power between 1996 and 2001, which was marked by human rights abuses.
But they’ve already imposed a slew of restrictions on women — banning many government jobs, secondary education, and solo travel outside their cities.
On Saturday, Afghanistan’s Supreme Leader and Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada approved a strict dress code for women when 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-coverage Afghan burqa.
“They should wear a chadari because it is traditional and respectful,” the decree approved by Akhundzada and released by the Taliban authorities said at a ceremony in Kabul.
“Women who are neither too old nor too young should cover their faces, except the eyes, according to Shariah guidelines, to avoid provocation when meeting men who are not mahram (adult close male relatives),” it said.
Achundzada’s decree also said that if women did not have important work outside the home, it was “better that they stayed at home”.
The Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which released the new order, announced a slew of penalties if the dress code is not followed.
It said a woman’s father or male guardian would be summoned and even jailed if the crime was committed repeatedly.
Women who work in government agencies and do not follow the order “should be fired,” the ministry added.
Government employees whose wives and daughters do not follow the rules will also be suspended from their jobs, the decree said.
The new restrictions were expected to lead to a wave of convictions abroad. Many in the international community want humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and recognition of the Taliban government to be linked to the restoration of women’s rights.
During their first regime, the Taliban made the burqa compulsory for women. Since their return to power, the dreaded deputy ministry has issued several “guidelines” on clothing, but Saturday’s edict is one of the strictest restrictions on women.
“Islam has never recommended chadari,” said a women’s rights activist who asked not to be named.
“I believe the Taliban are becoming regressive instead of progressive. They are going back to the way they were in their previous regime.” Another women’s rights activist, Muska Dastageer, said the Taliban rule had caused “too much anger and disbelief”.
“We are a broken nation forced to endure attacks we cannot fathom. As humans, we are being crushed,” she said on Twitter.
The hardline Islamists sparked international outcry in March when they ordered girls’ high schools to close just hours after they reopened for the first time since taking power.
Officials have never justified the ban, except that 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 days other than men.
Some Afghan women initially vigorously opposed the restrictions, holding small demonstrations demanding the right to education and work.
But the Taliban slammed these unauthorized demonstrations, detaining several ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.
In the 20 years between the two periods of the Taliban’s rule, girls were allowed to go to school and women in all sectors could seek employment, although the country remained socially conservative.
Many women already wear the burqa in the countryside.
The United States has said it is “concerned” about the erosion of women’s rights in Afghanistan. A foreign ministry spokesman said on Saturday after the new ruling: “We are extremely concerned that the rights and progress Afghan women and girls have achieved and enjoyed over the past 20 years are being eroded,” the spokesperson said, adding that Washington and its international partners “remain deeply concerned about recent moves by the Taliban targeting women and girls, including restrictions on education and travel.”
Originally published as Taliban orders Afghan women to cover completely in public