Afghan Taliban rulers on Saturday ordered all Afghan women to wear head-to-toe clothing in public – a sharp militant axis that underscored human rights activists’ worst fears and was bound to further complicate the Taliban’s handling of an already mistrustful international community.
This is the latest in a series of repressive edicts issued by the Taliban leadership, not all of which have been implemented. Last month, for example, the Taliban banned women from traveling alone, but after a day of opposition, this has been silently ignored ever since.
The decree, which calls on women to show only their eyes and recommends that they wear a burqa from head to toe, raised similar restrictions on women during the previous Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001.
“We want our sisters to live in dignity and security,” said Khaled Hanafi, the acting minister in charge of the Ministry of Virtue and a deputy in the Taliban movement.
The Taliban had previously decided not to reopen schools for girls above grade six, reneging on an earlier promise and choosing to mollify their hardline base at the cost of further alienating the international community. But this decree does not enjoy wide support among a leadership divided between pragmatists and hardliners.
This decision has disrupted the Taliban’s efforts to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a deepening humanitarian crisis.
“For all honorable Afghan women, wearing the hijab is essential and the best hijab is the chadori (head-to-toe burqa) which is part of our tradition and respected,” said Sher Muhammad, an official in the Ministry of Vice and Virtue at the State Department. statment.
He said: “Women who are not old or young should cover their faces, except for the eyes.”
The decree added that if a woman does not have an important job abroad, it is better for her to stay at home. Hanafi said: “Islamic principles and the Islamic faith are more important to us than anything else.”
Afghan researcher Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch urged the international community to put concerted pressure on the Taliban.
“It is time for a serious and strategic response to the Taliban’s escalating assault on women’s rights,” she wrote on Twitter.
A US-led coalition toppled the Taliban in 2001 for harboring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year.
Since taking power last August, the Taliban leadership has been squabbling among themselves as they struggle to transition from war to rule. It has pitted the hard-liners against the more pragmatic among them,
What infuriates many Afghans is knowing that many Taliban members of the younger generation, such as Sirajuddin Haqqani, educate their girls in Pakistan, while in Afghanistan, women and girls have been targeted by repressive edicts since they took power.
Girls have been banned from going to school after grade six in most parts of the country since the return of the Taliban. Universities opened earlier this year in most parts of the country, but since taking power, Taliban ordinances have been erratic. While a few provinces continued to provide education for all, most provinces closed educational institutions for girls and women.
Hashemi said the religiously-oriented Taliban administration fears that moving forward with enrolling girls beyond sixth grade might alienate their rural base.
In the capital, Kabul, private schools and universities operate without interruption.
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