Taliban impose head-to-toe blankets for women

KABUL — The Taliban government on Saturday decreed that Afghan women must cover themselves from head to toe, expanding a series of onerous restrictions on women that dictate almost every aspect of public life.

The government Ministry for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice has suggested the burqa as the preferred garment to cover a woman’s face, hair and body. But it did not mandate wearing the garment as long as women otherwise covered themselves with a hijab.

The full burqa, long emblematic of patriarchal control of women’s public dress in Afghanistan, has been described by the ministry as “the good and complete hijab” – a garment with different versions that covers a woman’s hair and a large part or all of his face and body.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, Afghan women have been subjected to a cascade of announcements restricting their employment, education, travel, behavior and other aspects of life. public. Many had assumed that the return of burqa-style body coverage was the inevitable next step.

The burqa, which leaves only a woman’s hands and feet visible and includes a sewn-in face net for vision, was required by the Taliban when they ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

The ministry’s definition of “hijab” on Saturday described a garment that “should not be too short or too tight,” according to the ministry’s announcement. The intention was to obscure the contours of a woman’s body, the ministry said.

In public announcements regarding women in recent months, the government has often issued vaguely worded proclamations that are left to interpretation. Wary of Western condemnation as the Taliban government seeks diplomatic recognition and humanitarian aid, many announcements appear to be based on inference and intimidation.

But the ministry, which is responsible for enforcing the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, was fairly specific on Saturday about sanctions against the male head of household of women who fail to comply with the latest decree.

At a three-hour press conference dominated by statements promoting the religious virtues of the burqa, ministry officials and Islamic religious figures dictated a series of escalating penalties, including prison terms for the men heads of households who have repeatedly ignored warnings from government officials about women’s dress.

If a woman does not wear the prescribed hijab in public, ministry officials would visit her home and advise the male head of household to compel her to comply, according to the ministry announcement.

Failure to comply would result in a summons to the ministry, officials said. If the man still failed to follow the guidelines, he would be jailed for three days.

If the prison sentence did not compel membership, the man would be forced to appear in a religious court for a further sentence, ministry officials said.

Male government employees whose wives or daughters fail to cover themselves in public would face suspension or dismissal, according to the announcement. And the relatively few women still allowed to take jobs – such as nurses, doctors and teachers – could be fired if they fail to comply with regulations.

“We want our sisters to live in dignity and security,” said Mohammad Khalid Hanafi, acting minister of Vice and Virtue.

Vice and Virtue official Shir Mohammad said in a statement that “all dignified Afghan women” should cover themselves from head to toe. “Those women who are neither too old nor too young should cover their faces except their eyes,” he added.

Since the Taliban took power in August, more women in Kabul appear to have started wearing burkas. But the majority of women on the capital’s streets continued to wear less encompassing versions of the hijab, with many covering only their hair and leaving most or all of their faces still visible.

Even under the previous, Western-backed government, many women – especially in rural areas and small towns – continued to wear burkas. The history of clothing goes back several generations in Afghanistan and is a product of the conservative Afghan culture that long predated the emergence of the Taliban in the 1990s.

At Saturday’s press conference, religious speakers presented dissertations on the Islamic history of the hijab and its benefits under Islamic law and practice.

The ministry has instructed officials across Afghanistan to put up posters in bazaars and other public places with instructions and images of approved clothing for women. In recent months, small posters have appeared in Kabul depicting head-to-toe hijabs, including burqas, as appropriate public dress for women.

On Saturday, ministry officials said “the decision, importance and benefits of hijab” should be discussed in mosques and publicized in the media.

In September, the Taliban transformed the previous government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs into the office of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue. Under the Taliban government of the 1990s, women who did not wear a burqa in public were often beaten by the Vice and Virtue Religious Police, who also issued warnings to male relatives.

Also on Saturday, a spokesman for an Afghan opposition group that has mounted an insurgency against the Taliban government repeated earlier claims that it had “liberated” three districts in the northern province of Panjshir. Asked whether the National Resistance Front, as the movement is called, had taken over district government centers, the spokesman replied by text message: “They have been besieged in district offices”, referring to Taliban leaders.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter that “no military incidents took place” in Panjshir or other nearby areas. The National Resistance Front’s claims “were not true, no one should be worried”, Mr Mujahid wrote.

He added that thousands of fighters from the Islamic Emirate were in Panjshir and were preventing any military advance from the front.

The National Resistance Front, or NRF, was formed by several leaders or supporters of the western-backed Afghan government before collapsing last summer. He is part of a resistance that consists of a handful of armed fighters spread across the mountains of northern Afghanistan, according to interviews with more than a dozen resistance fighters and leaders.

The NRF has approximately several hundred fighters, many of whom are junior officers of the former government’s security forces. It is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of late Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Mr Massoud left Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power and led the NRF from abroad.

Yacoob Akbary and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed report.

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