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Taliban bring back the burka: Afghan leadership orders women to cover faces in public - or stay at home

The Taliban said women must wear a head-to-toe burka in public - or their “male guardian” could face three days in prison

<p>Women wearing a burqa wait to receive free bread distributed as part of the Save Afghans From Hunger campaign in Kabul on January 18, 2022. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)</p>

Women wearing a burqa wait to receive free bread distributed as part of the Save Afghans From Hunger campaign in Kabul on January 18, 2022. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership has ordered all women to wear a head-to-toe burka in public, officials said.

The move evokes similar restrictions imposed on women during the Taliban’s previous draconian rule between 1996 and 2001.

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What has the Taliban said?

“We want our sisters to live with dignity and safety,” said Khalid Hanafi, acting minister for the Taliban’s ministry of vice and virtue.

Taliban minister for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Mohammad Khalid Hanafi (C) speaks during a ceremony to announce the decree for Afghan women’s dress code in Kabul on May 7, 2022 (Photo: Getty)

Shir Mohammad, an official from the vice and virtue ministry, said: “For all dignified Afghan women wearing Hajib is necessary and the best Hajib is chadori (the head-to-toe burka) which is part of our tradition and is respectful.

“Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes.”

The decree added that if women have no important work to be done outside, it is better for them to stay at home.

“Islamic principles and Islamic ideology are more important to us than anything else,” Mr Hanafi said.

If a woman does not comply with the new rule, the decree says that her “male guardian” could face three days in prison.

Women wearing a burqa wait for free bread in front of a bakery in Kabul on January 24, 2022. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP)

International reaction: ‘an escalating assault on women’s rights’

Heather Barr , senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, urged the international community to put co-ordinated pressure on the Taliban.

“(It is) far past time for a serious and strategic response to the Taliban’s escalating assault on women’s rights,” she wrote on Twitter.

Shaharzad Akbar, a former chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, wrote: “So much pain & grief for women of my country, my heart is exploding. So much hatred & anger against Taliban, enemies of women, enforcers of gender apartheid, enemies of Afghanistan & humanity. The world is a bystander to our pain,to an apartheid, to complete tyranny.”

Who are the Taliban?

The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harbouring terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, but returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year.

Since taking power last August, the Taliban has squabbled internally as it struggles to transition from a war footing to government.

Universities opened earlier this year in much of the country, but since taking power the Taliban edicts have been erratic.

While a handful of provinces continued to provide education for all, most provinces closed educational institutions for girls and women.

Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul (Photo: -/AFP via Getty Images)

The religiously-driven Taliban administration fears that going forward with enrolling girls beyond the the sixth grade could alienate their rural base.

In the capital of Kabul, private schools and universities have operated uninterrupted.

The Taliban previously decided against reopening schools to girls above grade six (around 11 years old), going back on an earlier promise.

That decision disrupted efforts by the Taliban to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis.

The international community has urged Taliban leaders to reopen schools.