KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan Taliban rulers on Saturday ordered all Afghan women to wear head-to-toe clothing in public — a sharp, hard line that confirmed the worst fears of human rights activists and the Taliban’s dealings with an already distrustful international community.
The decree says women should only leave the home when necessary, and male relatives will be punished — starting with a subpoena and escalating to court hearings and jail time — for violations of women’s dress codes.
It was the latest in a series of repressive edicts issued by the Taliban leaders, not all of which have been carried out. For example, last month the Taliban banned women from traveling alone, but after a day of opposition, this has since been silently ignored.
On Sunday, many women on the streets in the capital Kabul wore the same large scarves as before. Women also arrived unaccompanied at Kabul International Airport, while women in the city boarded small buses alone.
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 about the decision.
“This decision contradicts the many guarantees regarding respect for and protection of the human rights of all Afghans, including women and girls, which have been given to the international community over the past decade by representatives of the Taliban during discussions and negotiations. it said in a statement. statement.
The decree, which calls on women to show only their eyes and recommends wearing a head-to-toe burqa, imposed similar restrictions on women during the Taliban’s previous reign between 1996 and 2001.
“We want our sisters to live in dignity and safety,” said Khalid Hanafi, acting minister of the Taliban Ministry of Vice and Virtue.
The Taliban have previously decided not to reopen schools for girls above grade 6, reneging on a previous pledge and choosing to appease their hard-core base at the cost of further alienating the international community. But this decree is not widely supported by a leadership divided between the pragmatists and the hardliners.
That decision disrupted the Taliban’s efforts to gain recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is embroiled in an exacerbating humanitarian crisis.
“We must wear hijab for all worthy Afghan women and the best hijab is chadori (the head-to-toe burqa) which is part of our tradition and respectful,” said Shir Mohammad, an official in the Ministry of Vice and Virtue in a statement. statement.
“Women who are neither too old nor too young should cover their faces, except for the eyes,” he said. “Islamic principles and Islamic ideology are more important to us than anything else.”
Senior Afghanistan researcher Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch urged the international community to put coordinated pressure on the Taliban.
“(It is) long gone for a serious and strategic response to the escalating Taliban attack on women’s rights,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for housing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power in the waning days of America’s chaotic departure last year.
The White House National Security Council condemned Saturday’s Taliban decree and urged them to reverse it.
“We are discussing this with other countries and partners. The legitimacy and support that the Taliban seek from the international community depends entirely on their behavior, especially their ability to back up their commitments with actions,” a statement said.
Since taking power last August, Taliban leaders have been bickering among themselves as they struggle to make the transition from war to government. It has hardliners against the more pragmatic among them.
A spokeswoman for Pangea, an Italian non-governmental organization that has been helping women in Afghanistan for years, said the new decree would be particularly difficult for them to swallow, as they had lived in relative freedom until the Taliban takeover.
“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 phone. “It’s dramatic (now) to have a life that doesn’t exist.”
Infuriating many Afghans is the knowledge that many of the younger generation Taliban, such as Sirajuddin Haqqani, are raising their girls in Pakistan, while in Afghanistan women and girls have been the target of their repressive edicts since they came to power. Haqqani is a UN-designated terrorist and head of the Haqqani Network, which has been blamed for some of the deadliest attacks during the 20-year US-led invasion.
Since the return of the Taliban, girls in most of the country have been banned from school after grade 6. Universities opened in much of the country earlier this year, but since they came to power, Taliban edicts have been lifted. 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 continuing to enroll girls after sixth grade could alienate their nationwide base, Hashmi said.
In Kabul, private schools and universities have operated uninterrupted.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Islamabad, Thomas Strong in Washington and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed to this report