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Taliban leader orders women to wear burqas

May 7, 2022

The hard-line Islamist group has told Afghan women to cover their faces in public — the latest backslide on promises to retain women's rights after the Taliban seized power last August.

A burqa-clad woman waits for transportation at a bus stop
During their time in power between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban imposed many restrictions on womenImage: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Afghanistan's supreme leader and Taliban chief on Saturday ordered women in the country to wear the all-covering burqa in public.

The decree marks one of the strictest controls imposed on women's lives  since the hardline Islamists seized power in August.

What did the Taliban order?

The decree from Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was read out at a press conference in Kabul.

"They [women] should wear a chadori [head-to-toe burqa] as it is traditional and respectful," the decree said, referring to the dress that became a global symbol of the Taliban's previous hardline regime from 1996 until 2001.

The statement said the measure was introduced "in order to avoid provocation when meeting men who are not mahram [adult close male relatives]." 

The decree said older women and young girls were exempt.

The statement added that if women had no important work outside it was "better they stay at home."

From now on, if a woman does not cover her face outside the home, according to the decree, her father or closest male relative could be imprisoned or fired from government jobs.

The Afghan activist taking on the Taliban online

What did Afghan women wear before now?

Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, women's rights were expanded and many of the strict rules imposed during the Taliban's first regime in the late 1990s were undone.

This allowed for women to choose how they dress. Most women wore a headscarf for religious reasons, many in urban areas, such as Kabul, did not cover their faces.

Under more moderate Afghan governments, many schools also opened their doors to girls, and women were allowed back to work after previous Taliban restrictions.

In 2003, a new constitution strengthened women's rights and six years later the country adopted the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law.

Taliban backslides on women's rights

When the Taliban took power following the withdrawal of NATO troops last August, the Islamist group vowed not to reimpose the same strict rules on women seen during its previous rule.

However, over the past nine months, the group has reimposed most of those restrictions.

In March, the Taliban shuttered girls' high schools on the morning they were due to open.

The administration has also stepped up curbs on women's movement, restricting their travel without a male chaperone and banning men and women from visiting parks at the same time.

The backslide has drawn the ire of the international community and prompted the United States to cancel planned meetings on easing the country's financial

Washington and other nations have cut development aid and enforced strict sanctions on the banking system since the Taliban seized control, pushing the country toward economic ruin.

mm/sms (AFP, Reuters)