Taliban announce women must cover face in public, say burqa is best

Most women in Afghanistan wear headscarves for religious reasons, but many in urban areas like Kabul do not cover their faces

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KABUL — The Afghan Taliban government on Saturday ordered women to cover their faces in public, a return to a signature policy of their hardline former regime and an escalation in restrictions that are drawing anger at home and abroad.

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An edict from the group’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said that if a woman did not cover her face outside the home, her father or closest male relative would be visited and risk being imprisoned or fired of his jobs in the state.

“We call on the world to cooperate with the Islamic Emirate and the Afghan people… Do not disturb us. Do not exert more pressure, because history is witness to it, Afghans will not be affected by pressure,” said Mohammad Khalid Hanafi, Minister for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, during a a press conference.

The ideal face covering was the all-encompassing blue burqa, the group said, referring to the garment that was compulsory for women in public during the previous Taliban regime of 1996-2001.

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Most women in Afghanistan wear headscarves for religious reasons, but many in urban areas like Kabul do not cover their faces.

GROWING RESTRICTIONS

The Taliban have been heavily criticized by Western governments, but also by some religious scholars and Islamic nations, for limiting women’s rights, including keeping girls’ high schools closed.

The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement on Saturday that it would immediately seek to meet with the Taliban on the matter, adding that it would consult with other members of the international community on the implications of the decision.

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“UNAMA is deeply concerned by today’s announcement by the Taliban de facto authorities…this decision contradicts many assurances regarding the respect and protection of the human rights of all Afghans,” the statement said.

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The United States and others have already cut development aid and sanctioned the banking system since the group took power in August, pushing Afghanistan toward economic ruin.

The Taliban say this has changed since their last rule, but in recent months they have added regulations limiting the movement of women without male chaperones and prohibiting men and women from visiting parks together.

“It interferes with women’s privacy,” Kabul-based women’s rights advocate Mahbouba Seraj said of Saturday’s decree. “Today we have a lot of other problems, like suicide bombings, poverty… People are dying every day, our girls can’t go to school, women can’t work.. . But they just think, talk and make hijab robe laws).”

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