'They think we're their enemies': The Taliban's war on Afghan women
“The best and the foremost form of hijab is for women to not leave their houses without a valid reason,” the decree explicitly stated.
The other two forms of hijab recommended in the decree are chadari, the blue colour head and body covering also often called a burqa, and the black colour long dress, commonly referred to as the hijab in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban seem to have the biggest problem with the women of this country. They think we are their enemies,” a female university student in Kabul told The New Arab.
"Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan for the second time nine months ago, concerns over women's rights across the country have been rising"
The Taliban’s oppressive policies towards women are not new. During the group’s first period of rule in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, women were completely absent from public life.
Most recently, the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue instructed Afghan media organisations that female presenters on television should cover their faces. Women presenters now appear on TV screens with their masks on.
Male members of one private TV station also started wearing black masks on-screen in solidarity with their female colleagues.
In response to the recent announcements by the Taliban, the United Nations Security Council called on the Taliban to swiftly reverse policies and practices that restrict the freedoms of Afghan women and girls.
"The members of the Security Council further expressed deep concern regarding the announcements by the Taliban that all women must cover their faces in public spaces and in media broadcasts, only leave home in cases of necessity," the body said in a statement on 24 May 2022.
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan for the second time nine months ago, concerns over women's rights across the country have been rising. The new government has allegedly beaten and detained some women protesters demanding their rights and freedoms on the streets of Kabul and other cities.
Women are completely absent from the workplace as the Taliban ordained female public employees to stay at home until the government makes a decision about their presence at work. The decision is still pending.
Girls above the age of 13 are still not allowed to attend school as secondary schools remain shut for girls in most of the country's provinces. Public universities reopened with segregated classes for male and female students in February.
Families cannot go to entertainment parks together because the government allocated different days of the week for men and women to visit parks separately.
During the holy month of Ramadan, the Taliban asked mosques to close their female sections so that women couldn’t attend the nightly Tarawih prayers. Only a few major mosques in Kabul provided women with the space and the opportunity to attend Friday prayers and Tarawih prayers during Ramadan.
The recent decree on the hijab sparked severe criticism from women's rights activists, scholars and politicians in Afghanistan and internationally, but the Ministry of Vice and Virtue has insisted on implementing the decree despite the opposition from outside Taliban ranks and internal divisions over the new directives.
The decree even defines punishments for male guardians of women who disobey the new orders regarding covering their faces in public. A guardian is any male member of the woman's family who is responsible for the family's protection, such as a father, brother, or husband.
"Many believe that these restrictive religious interpretations are a cover for a more concerted attempt by the Taliban to deny women their social and civil rights and tighten their grip on power"
The majority of Afghan women have always observed the hijab in the broader sense, in one form or another. The country's population is more than 99 percent Muslim, and most strictly follow the rulings of Islam in their private and social life. But the Taliban's narrow interpretation of Islam often goes against the long-standing beliefs of many Afghans.
"While covering other parts of a woman's body is compulsory in Islam, covering her face and hands falls under discretionary rulings," Dr Nasiba Islami, a professor of Islamic studies in Kabul, told The New Arab, explaining that the Taliban's view on the hijab is a minority perspective.
"Enforcing discretionary rulings may lead some people to take distance from the religion," she added.
While Islamic scholars do have different views about body covering for women, the majority say it is not obligatory to cover the face. But many believe that these restrictive religious interpretations are a cover for a more concerted attempt by the Taliban to deny women their social and civil rights and tighten their grip on power.
"The Taliban are trying to completely imprison women and deprive them of their social rights under the pretext of applying Islamic law and Afghan customs and traditions," said Muzhda Noor, a former professor at Badakhshan University who was terminated by the new government allegedly for her political affiliation.
In a broader sense, the Taliban’s aim is functionally to discourage and restrict women from playing a meaningful role in society. Their interpretation compels women to stay in their homes and not appear in public except for 'religiously justified' reasons.
Ultimately, the Taliban’s war on women will have disastrous consequences not just for women and girls, but for society overall, which is already facing a number of socio-economic challenges, such as a shortage of doctors and teachers, and a looming economic collapse.
Modaser Islami is an Afghan journalist and writer.
Follow him on Twitter: @mmodaser