Taliban forces women to wear the burqa again outdoors

Women in Afghanistan are still required to wear a burqa, which covers all clothing outside. Taliban leader Hebatullah Akhundzadeh announced it in a decree issued on Saturday. Akhundzada said women should wear a piece of clothing “that covers it from head to toe, because that is traditional and respectful.”

The decree was read at a press conference in Kabul by a representative of the Ministry for Promoting Virtue and Combating Immorality. He added that women “who are neither too old nor too young should cover their faces in front of men who are not related to them.” Moreover, it is better for a woman to stay at home “if she has nothing to do outside”.

Back to the strict dress code

With the obligatory burqa, the Taliban are emphasizing what has been feared but not yet achieved since seizing power in August: a return to a strict dress code for women from their first reign (1996-2001). Then the women were caught in the street without a burqa or immediately whipped. Any woman would soon venture out with an open face.

After seizing power last year, the Taliban announced that according to Islamic rules, women are required to wear a “hijab,” without explaining what they mean by that. Hijab may also mean that a veiled woman only covers her hair.

Many women in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas, have traditionally worn the burqa for the past twenty years. But in cities such as Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, many women have chosen to wear more than their headscarves since August last year, as most used to before the arrival of the Taliban.

Some young women in Kabul wore the headscarf “Iranian”: he pushed them back as far as they could. However, with the new decree, this relative freedom appears to be coming to an end and the women are once again being hunted in secret.

Restriction of freedom of movement

Akhundzada’s contacts come on the heels of a number of other actions that gradually restrict women’s freedom of movement. For example, women traveling out of town must be accompanied by a male companion, and men and women are no longer allowed to visit parks at the same time.

One of the major setbacks facing girls is that secondary schools remain closed to them. Initially, after the winter break, they had to reopen their doors to girls at the end of March, but at the last minute it was confirmed that schools were “not yet suitable” to receive them. Many students returned home in disappointment on March 23, their first day at school, after grieving school principals were driven away from the school gates.

The education ban and new dress code make it unlikely that the international community will soon come face to face with the Taliban. Afghanistan’s financial assets abroad have been frozen and much aid has been suspended since August.

As the most important condition for the resumption of aid, donor countries mention respect for the rights of Afghan women and girls. The new decree further undermines it. The burqa has great symbolic significance for the outside world.

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Denton Watson

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