The Taliban issued yet another decree imposing further restrictions on Afghan women and criminalizing their clothing.
While the Taliban have always imposed restrictions to govern Afghan women’s bodies, the decree is the first for this regime in which criminal punishment is meted out for violating the women’s dress code.
The recently reinstated Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice for the Taliban announced Saturday that it is “mandatory for all respectable Afghan women to wear a hijab,” or headscarf.
The ministry, in a statement, identified the chadori (the blue colored Afghan burqa or full-length veil) as the “best hijab” of choice.
Also acceptable as a hijab, the statement stated, is a long black veil covering a woman from head to toe.
The ministry statement provided a description: “Any garment that covers a woman’s body is considered a hijab as long as it is not too tight to represent the body parts nor thin enough to reveal the body.”
The punishment was also detailed: male guardians of female offenders will receive a warning and, for repeat offenses, will be arrested.
“If a woman is caught without a hijab, her mahram (a male guardian) will be notified. The second time, the guardian will be summoned [by Taliban officials]and after repeated subpoenas, his guardian will be detained for three days,” according to the statement.
Akif Muhajir, a spokesman for the ministry, said government officials who violate the hijab rule would be fired.
And male guardians found guilty of repeated crimes “will be sent to court for further punishment,” he said.
“Third Class Citizens”
The new decree is the latest in a series of decrees restricting women’s freedoms imposed since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last summer. News of the decree was met with widespread condemnation and outrage by Afghan women and activists.
“Why have women reduced to [an] object being sexualized?” asked Marzia, a 50-year-old university professor from Kabul.
The teacher’s name has been changed to protect her identity as she fears the Taliban’s repercussions for expressing her views publicly.
“I am a practicing Muslim and I value what Islam has taught me. If, as Muslim men, they have a problem with my hijab, they should look at their own hijab and look down,” she said.
“Why should we be treated like third-class citizens because they cannot practice Islam and control their sexual desires?” the professor asked, anger evident in his voice.
As a single woman who takes care of her mother, Marzia does not have a mahram. She is the sole breadwinner in her small family.
“I’m single, my father died a long time ago and I take care of my mother,” she said.
“The Taliban killed my brother, my only mahram, in an attack 18 years ago. They would now borrow me a mahram for them [to] punish me next time?” she asked.
Marzia was repeatedly detained by the Taliban while traveling alone to work at their university, which is in violation of an earlier decree banning women from traveling alone.
“They regularly stop the taxi I’m in, asking where my mahram is,” Marzia said.
“When I try to explain that I don’t have one, they don’t listen. It doesn’t matter that I’m a respected teacher; they show no dignity and tell taxi drivers to abandon me on the roads,” she said.
“I had to walk several miles home or to my classes on more than one occasion.”
‘Dignity and Agency’
Marzia’s sentiments were echoed by women’s rights activists based in Afghanistan and abroad.
Activist Huda Khamosh was a leader in the women-led demonstrations in Kabul that followed the Taliban takeover last summer. She avoided arrest during a Taliban crackdown on protesters in February. Later, Khamosh confronted Taliban leaders at a conference in Norway, demanding that they release their fellow protesters held in Kabul.
“The Taliban regime was imposed on us, and its self-imposed rules have no legal basis, and it sends the wrong message to young girls of this generation in Afghanistan, reducing their identity to their clothes,” said Khamosh, who urged Afghan women to lift the voice.
“Never be silent,” she said.
“The rights granted to a woman [in Islam] are more than just the right to choose a husband and marry,” Khamosh said, referring to a Taliban decree on rights that focused only on the right to marriage but did not address issues of work and education for women.
“Women have dignity and agency throughout their lives,” she said.
“Twenty years [of gains made by Afghan women] It’s not insignificant progress to lose overnight. We won this by our own strength, fighting the patriarchal society, and no one can remove us from the community.”
The activists also said they anticipated current developments in Afghanistan and placed the same blame on the international community for failing to recognize the urgency of the situation.
Samira Hamidi, an Afghan activist and senior researcher at Amnesty International, said that even after the Taliban’s takeover last August, Afghan women continued to insist that the international community uphold women’s rights as “a non-negotiable component of its engagement and negotiations with the Taliban”.
But the international community has failed Afghan women yet again, Hamidi said.
“For a decade, Afghan women have been warning all actors involved in peace negotiations about what the Taliban’s return to power means for women,” she said.
The current situation is a result of flawed policies and a lack of “understanding by the international community of the seriousness of violations of women’s rights” in Afghanistan, she said.
“It is a blatant violation of the right to freedom of choice and movement, and the Taliban has been given space and time. [by the international community] impose additional reprisals and systematic discrimination,” Hamidi said.
Khamosh, the activist, agrees.
“The world is betraying an entire generation with its silence,” she said.
“It is a crime against humanity to allow a country to become a prison for half of its population,” she said, adding that the repercussions of the current situation in Afghanistan will be felt globally.
Marzia, the teacher, shared a similar feeling of disappointment.
“We are a country that has produced some of the most brilliant female leaders. I used to teach my students the value of respecting and supporting women,” she said.
“I gave hope to so many girls and it was all thrown [the] rubbish as meaningless,” she said.
“My heart breaks with every new ‘law’ and decrees they issue that contradict our Islamic and Afghan values.”