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Afghanistan’s supreme leader on Saturday ordered Afghan women to once again wear the burqa – a full-face veil – in public, imposing the toughest restriction on women’s freedom since the Taliban returned to power last August.
The Taliban have strongly tightened the restrictions on the freedom of women in Afghanistan, by imposing on them, on Saturday May 7, the public wearing of the burqa, a full mesh veil at eye level, a symbol of their oppression in this country.
In an edict issued to the press in Kabul, Taliban and Afghan Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered women to wear “a chadri (another name for the burka) because it is traditional and respectful”. .
“Women who are neither too young nor too old should veil their faces when facing a man who is not a member of their family”, to avoid provocation, adds this decree.
And if they don’t have an important task to do outside, it is “better for them to stay at home”.
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This decree also lists the punishments to which heads of families are exposed who do not enforce the wearing of the burqa.
Since the Taliban returned to power in mid-August, the dreaded Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice had issued several recommendations on how women should dress. But this is the first edict on the subject promulgated at the national level.
The Taliban had previously demanded that women wear at least a hijab, a scarf covering the head but revealing the face. But they strongly recommended wearing the burqa, which they had already imposed during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001.
During this first regime, they deprived women of almost all rights, in accordance with their ultra-rigorous interpretation of Sharia, Islamic law.
Agents from the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice whipped any woman caught without a burqa.
After their return to power, after twenty years of occupation by the United States and its allies, which had driven them out in 2001, the Taliban had promised to be more flexible this time.
But they soon reneged on their promises, steadily eroding rights again and sweeping away two decades of freedom won by women.
Women are now largely barred from government jobs and prohibited from traveling abroad or long distance within the country without being accompanied by a male family member.
In March, the Taliban closed high schools and colleges for girls, just hours after their long-announced reopening. This unexpected volte-face, which was not justified except to say that the education of girls must be done in accordance with Sharia law, scandalized the international community.
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The Taliban have also enforced the separation of women and men in Kabul’s public parks, with mandated visiting days for each gender.
Over the past two decades, Afghan women had acquired new freedoms, returning to school or applying for jobs in all sectors of activity, even if the country remained socially conservative.
After the return to power of the Taliban, women first tried to assert their rights by demonstrating in Kabul and in major cities.
But the new masters of Afghanistan fiercely repressed the movement, arresting many activists and detaining some, sometimes for several weeks.
The burqa is a traditional Afghan item of clothing, widely worn in the more remote and conservative parts of the country. Even before the return to power of the Taliban, the vast majority of Afghan women were veiled, if only with a loose headscarf.