KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan Taliban leaders on Saturday ordered all Afghan women to wear clothes from head to toe in public – a sharp, tough line that confirmed human rights activists’ worst fears and should have further complicated the Taliban’s relationship with an already distrustful international community.
It was the latest in a series of repressive decrees issued by the Taliban leadership, not all of which have been carried out. Last month, for example, the Taliban banned women from traveling alone, but after a day of confrontation it was tacitly ignored.
The decree, which urges women to show only their eyes and recommends wearing a burqa from head to toe, caused similar restrictions for women during the Taliban’s previous rule from 1996 to 2001.
“We want our sisters to live with dignity and security,” said Khalid Hanafi, acting minister of the Taliban’s ministry of vice and virtue.
Earlier, the Taliban decided not to open schools for girls over 6th grade, abandoning the previous promise and deciding to calm their tough base by further alienating the international community. But this decree does not have widespread support among leadership divided between pragmatists and hardliners.
The decision thwarted the Taliban’s efforts to gain recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country was mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis.
“It is necessary for all worthy Afghan women to wear the hijab, and the best hijab is an umbrella (head-to-toe parade), which is part of our tradition and commands respect,” said Shir Mohammad, a spokesman for the vice and virtue ministry.
“Those women who are not too old and young should cover their face except their eyes,” he said.
The decree emphasizes that if women do not have important work outside, it is better for them to stay at home. “Islamic principles and Islamic ideology are more important to us than anything else,” Hanafi said.
Afghanistan’s senior researcher Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch has called on the international community to put coordinated pressure on the Taliban.
“(This) is a long time for a serious and strategic response to the escalation of the Taliban’s attack on women’s rights,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Taliban were overthrown in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for the asylum of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year.
Since coming to power in August last year, the Taliban leadership has been at loggerheads, fighting for the transition from war to rule. He confronts hardliners against the more pragmatic among them,
Many Afghans are outraged that many Taliban youth, such as Sirajudin Hakkani, are educating their girls in Pakistan, while in Afghanistan women and girls have been targeted by their repressive decrees since coming to power.
After returning to the Taliban, girls are banned from attending school after 6th grade in much of the country. Universities opened earlier this year in much of the country, but Taliban decrees have been in disarray since coming to power. While several provinces continued to provide education to all, most provinces closed educational institutions for girls and women.
The Taliban’s religious administration fears further education for girls after sixth grade could alienate their rural base, Hashmi said.
In the Kabul capital, private schools and universities operated smoothly.