KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan Taliban leaders on Saturday ordered all Afghan women to wear head-to-toe clothing in public — a sharp, uncompromising pivot that confirmed rights activists’ worst fears and was meant to further complicate relations with the Taliban with an already suspicious international community.
The decree states that women should leave the house only when necessary, and that male relatives would face penalties – starting with a summons and possibly going as far as hearings and jail time – for violations of the women’s dress code.
It was the latest in a series of repressive edicts issued by Taliban leaders, 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 since been silently ignored.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it was deeply concerned about what appeared to be a formal directive that would be implemented and enforced, adding that it would seek clarification from the Taliban on the decision.
“This decision contradicts numerous assurances regarding the respect and protection of the human rights of all Afghans, including those of women and girls, which had been provided to the international community by representatives of the Taliban during discussions and negotiations in over the past decade,” he said in a statement. statement.
The decree, which calls on women to show only their eyes and recommends that they wear the burqa from head to toe, referred to similar restrictions imposed on women under the previous Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001.
“We want our sisters to live in dignity and security,” said Khalid Hanafi, acting minister of the Taliban’s Ministry of Vices and Virtue.
The Taliban had previously decided not to reopen schools for girls beyond grade 6, reneging on an earlier promise and choosing to appease their hardline base at the expense of further alienation from the international community. But this decree does not enjoy broad support within a leadership divided between pragmatists and hardliners.
The move has disrupted Taliban efforts to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a deepening humanitarian crisis.
“For all dignified Afghan women, wearing the hijab is necessary and the best hijab is chadori (the burqa from head to toe) which is part of our tradition and is respectful,” said Shir Mohammad, an official with the ministry of vice and virtue in one statement.
“Those women who are neither too old nor too young should cover their faces except their eyes,” he said. “Islamic principles and Islamic ideology are more important to us than anything else,” Hanafi said.
Senior Afghanistan researcher Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch urged the international community to exert coordinated pressure on the Taliban.
“(It is) much past time for a serious and strategic response to the Taliban’s escalating attacks on women’s rights,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harboring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year.
The White National Security Council condemned the Taliban’s decree on Saturday and urged them to rescind it immediately.
“We are discussing this with other countries and partners. The legitimacy and support the Taliban seek from the international community is entirely dependent on their conduct, particularly their ability to back up declared commitments with actions,” he said in a statement.
Since taking power last August, Taliban leaders have bickered among themselves as they struggle to transition from war to government. It pits the hard-liners against the more pragmatic ones.
A spokeswoman for Pangea, an Italian non-governmental organization that has been helping women for years in Afghanistan, said the new decree would be particularly hard for them to swallow because they had lived in relative freedom until the takeover. by the Taliban.
“Over the past 20 years they have become aware of human rights and in the space of a few months they have lost them,” Silvia Redigolo said by telephone. “It’s tragic to have (now) a life that doesn’t exist,” she said.
Many Afghans are infuriated to know that many younger generation Taliban like Sirajuddin Haqqani are educating their daughters in Pakistan, while in Afghanistan women and girls have been the target of their repressive edicts since coming to power.
Girls have been banned from school beyond grade 6 in most of the country since the return of the Taliban. Universities opened earlier this year in much of the country, but since coming to power Taliban edicts have been erratic. While a handful of provinces continued to provide education for all, most provinces closed educational institutions for girls and women.
The religiously-driven Taliban administration fears that moving ahead with enrollment of girls beyond grade six could alienate their rural base, Hashmi said.
In the capital, Kabul, private schools and universities operated without interruption.