KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Saturday ordered all Afghan women to wear head-to-toe clothing in public — a sharp, hard-line pivot that confirmed the worst fears of rights activists and was bound to further complicate Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
This was just the latest of many repressive orders issued by Taliban leaders, but not all have been executed. For example, the Taliban had forbade women from traveling alone last month, however, after one day of resistance, this was silently ignored.
The decree, which calls for women to only show their eyes and recommends they wear the head-to-toe burqa, evoked similar restrictions on women during the Taliban’s previous rule between 1996 and 2001.
“We want our sisters to live with dignity and safety,” said Khalid Hanafi, acting minister for the Taliban’s vice and virtue ministry.
Previous decisions by the Taliban to not reopen schools to girls over 6 years old were reneged upon an earlier promise. Instead, they chose to discredit their hard-line base and alienate the international community. But this decree does not have widespread support among a leadership that’s divided between pragmatists and the hardliners.
The Taliban were unable to get recognition from donors abroad at a crucial time in their struggle for recognition.
“For all dignified Afghan women wearing Hijab is necessary and the best Hijab is chadori (the head-to-toe burqa) which is part of our tradition and is respectful,” said Shir Mohammad, an official from the vice and virtue ministry in a statement.
“Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes,” he said.
According to the decree, women should not be doing any important work outside of home if they don’t have any. “Islamic principles and Islamic ideology are more important to us than anything else,” Hanafi said.
Heather Barr from Human Rights Watch, senior Afghanistan researcher, called on the international community for coordinated pressure against the Taliban.
“(It is) far past time for a serious and strategic response to the Taliban’s escalating assault on women’s rights,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year.
As they attempt to move from war to governance, the Taliban leadership has been quarreling since taking control in August. The conflict has pitted hard-liners against more pragmatic members.
Many Afghans find it frustrating to learn that the Taliban’s younger generations, such as Sirajuddin Haqqani and others, educate their daughters in Pakistan while women and girls in Afghanistan have been subject to their oppressive edicts.
Girls have been banned from school beyond grade 6 in most of the country since the Taliban’s return. Many universities opened this year. However, since the Taliban took power, their edicts are unpredictable. Although a few provinces provided education for all students, the majority of them closed schools for women and girls.
Hashmi explained that religiously-driven Taliban officials fear enrolling girls above the sixth grade, as this could cause disunity in rural areas.
Private schools and universities continue to operate in Kabul’s capital.
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