Afghanistan: Taliban ban women from entering Kabul’s gyms, parks and funfairs in latest crackdown on freedom

The Taliban have been restricting women’s rights in Afghanistan since they regained power in August 2021.

The Taliban have banned women from entering all parks, gyms and fairgrounds in Afghanistan in their latest crackdown on women’s freedom.

Since the Taliban regained power of Kabul in August 2021, the rights of women and girls have become increasingly restricted. Girls have been blocked from entering secondary schools, while women have been banned from most fields of employment and are not able to travel long distances without a male escort. It is also mandatory to wear the hijab or the burqa when outside of the home.

The most recent measure, excluding women from parks, gyms and fairgrounds, comes just months after the Taliban ordered these spaces to be segregated by gender. Women were allowed to visit parks on three days a week (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday), while men had access on the remaining four days.

But even this has been taken away now, with a spokesman from the vice and virtue ministry saying people were not observing the segregation rules and women were not wearing the hijab. Mohammed Akef Mohajer said: “We have seen both men and women together in parks and, unfortunately, the hijab was not observed. So we had to come up with another decision and for now we ordered all parks and gyms to be closed for women.”

The Taliban-appointed spokesman added that the group had “tried its best” to avoid closing these spaces for women, but “unfortunately, the orders were not obeyed and the rules were violated.” He also confirmed that teams would be sent to monitor areas and establishments to check if women are still using them.

The Taliban have banned women from entering all parks, gyms and fairgrounds in Afghanistan in their latest crackdown on women’s freedom. Credit: Getty Images

The news has, unsurprisingly, been met with widespread dismay. Raihana, 21, who is studying Islamic Law at university, was met with the rule change after arriving at a park to spend the day with her sisters. She told AFP: “Obviously, in Islam, it is allowed to go out and visit parks. When you have no freedom in your own country, then what does it mean to live here?”

Meanwhile, a female personal trainer, who did not wish to be named out of fear of reprisals, told The Times that women and men were not exercising together at the gym where she works in Kabul. She said: “The Taliban are lying. We were training separately.”

She described how two men claiming to be from the virtue and vice ministry entered her gym and made all the women leave. “The women wanted to protest about the gyms [closing] but the Taliban came and arrested them,” she added. “Now, I don’t know if they’re alive or dead.”

Women in Afghanistan are now all but banned from public life. In May, a decree from the Taliban stated that women should leave the home only when necessary, and that male relatives would face punishment for women’s dress code violations. Punishments would start with a summons and could escalate up to court hearings and a jail sentence.

Alison Davidian, the United Nations special representative in Afghanistan for women, condemned the latest ban. “This is yet another example of the Taliban’s continued and systematic erasure of women from public life. We call on the Taliban to reinstate all rights and freedoms for women and girls.”

Sodaba Nazhand, a Kabul-based women’s rights activist, said the bans would leave many women wondering what was left for them in Afghanistan. “It is not just a restriction for women, but also for children. Children go to a park with their mothers, now children are also prevented from going to the park. It’s so sad and unfair.”