Afghanistan’s supreme leader and head of the Taliban on Saturday ordered all women to wear the burqa, the country’s traditional full-face veil in the tradition of Sharia, Islamic law, in public. This order follows others that have stripped Afghan women of their rights, including education and the freedom to travel alone.
An investigation by Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Institute at San Jose State University (SJSU) concluded that Afghan women are “facing both the collapse of their rights and dreams and risks to their basic survival.” Halima Kazem-Stojanovic of SJSU said, “They are caught between the abuses of the Taliban and the actions of the international community that are driving Afghans to despair every day.”
The Taliban have prohibited women and girls from accessing secondary and higher education, and have modified the curricula to focus more on religious studies. They dictate what women should wear, how they should travel, job segregation by sex, and even what kind of mobile phones women should have. They enforce these rules through intimidation and inspections.
“The crisis for women and girls in Afghanistan is escalating with no end in sight,” said Heather Barr, deputy women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Taliban policies have quickly made many women and girls virtual prisoners in their homes, depriving the country of one of its most precious resources, the skills and talents of the female half of the population.”
These are the rights that women have lost since the Taliban took power in August 2021.
Forced to wear a burqa that fully covers them
The burqa was part of the group’s previous regime between 1996 and 2001, and covers the woman’s entire head and face. On May 7, 2022, the Taliban ordered Afghan women to wear it in public. The decree was read out at a press conference in Kabul, by the Taliban’s Acting Minister of Vice and Virtue, Khalid Hanafi, who said: “We want our sisters to live with dignity and safety.” From now on, if a woman does not cover her face outside the home, her father or her closest male relative can be jailed or fired from her job.
Forbidden to work in series and movies
In November 2021, women were banned from appearing in TV dramas and movies. The decree was part of eight new rules, which also highlighted the banning of films deemed contrary to Sharia or Islamic law and Afghan values, as well as comedies that insult religion and foreign films that promote foreign cultural values.
Journalists and presenters forced to wear veils
Also in November last year, TV presenters and journalists were forced to wear on-screen veils. The move was condemned by many, including Zan TV, the first Afghan channel to staff all-female producers and reporters. At the time, Zan TV said the switch to headscarves “threatened press freedom.”
Long-distance travel and unaccompanied flights prohibited male
On December 26 last year, the Taliban issued a directive saying that women who wished to travel more than 72 kilometers should be accompanied by a “close male relative”.
It also instructed vehicle owners to refuse to drive women without head coverings. In March this year, the Taliban told airlines in Afghanistan that women cannot board domestic or international flights without a male escort.
Ministry of Women’s Affairs abolished
In September last year, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was closed. Established in 2001, the ministry was taken over by the Vice Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention.
Girls excluded from education
At the start of the Afghan school year in March, the Taliban decided that girls over the age of 11 would not be able to return to school. They said girls’ schools would remain closed until a “comprehensive” and “Islamic” plan was drawn up.
Women should not work alongside men
In September last year, a senior member of the Taliban said that women should not be allowed to work alongside men. “We have been fighting for almost 40 years to bring the Sharia legal system to Afghanistan,” Waheedullah Hashimi, a leader, told Reuters. “Sharia does not allow men and women to meet or sit together under one roof.” “Men and women cannot work together. They are not allowed to come into our offices and work in our ministries.”
Nearly all of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed for its research who were previously gainfully employed had lost their jobs. “In the [provincia] from Ghazni, only health workers and teachers can go to work,” said an employee of a non-governmental organization. “Women who work in other fields are now forced to stay at home.”
When women are allowed to work, their workplaces operate under new Taliban restrictions. A health worker told Human Rights Watch that her boss arranged a meeting with a senior Taliban official. “The hospital brought all the female staff together to tell us how we should behave,” she said. “How should we dress and how should we work separately from male staff. We were advised to speak to the male staff in an insolent and angry tone, not in a soft tone, so that we do not evoke sexual desires in them.”
According to a report released by the United Nations Development Program in December last year, women accounted for 20 percent of Afghanistan’s workforce in 2020. “Not investing in half of the country’s human capital, in the girls’ education, will have serious socio-economic consequences for years to come,” the report said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism