The Taliban push women in Afghanistan to cover

KABUL, Afghanistan – Her mother begged her not to go to the protest, even though Maryam Hassanzada was walking out the door.

But Ms. Hassanzada, 24, reassured her mother, then joined a dozen other women protesting against Taliban decree this month requires Afghan women to cover themselves from head to toe.

With their faces uncovered, the women sang “Justice! Justice! “And” Stop tyranny against women! “They protested for about 10 minutes before Taliban gunmen brutally stopped the demonstration. Protesters said they were detained by Taliban security officials for two hours, interrogated and warned. then released with the warning not to protest anymore.

Mrs Hassanzada was indomitable.

“If we don’t protest, the world won’t know how badly Afghan women are oppressed,” she later said.

These are dangerous times for Afghan women. The Taliban show no signs of easing the repression not only on fundamental rights such as education and I work for women, but on every aspect of public life, from deportation to travel.

The cover-up decree, which also urged women to stay at home unless they had a compelling reason to leave, followed an earlier rule that provided for women traveling more than 45 miles from their homes to be accompanied by a male relative.

In August, the Taliban promised less restrictive policies towards women than during their previous rule in the late 1990s. “There will be no violence against women, no prejudice against women,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters.

Instead, within months, the Taliban imposed onerous decrees that swept women from the relative freedoms achieved in the past two decades to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law that stifles women’s rights.

On the streets of the capital, compliance with the decree is mixed.

In the district of Dasht-e-Barchi, home of the Hazara, a Muslim minority with a Shiite majority, very few women cover their faces, with the exception of surgical masks for Covid-19. But in nearby Map Naw, an ethnic Pashtun area, part of the Sunni majority, most women wear hijab, or headscarves, which cover their faces.

Some women in Kabul said men on the street had harassed them and warned them when they appeared in public with their faces uncovered.

Outside the capital, most women appear to obey the decree. Across the country, women say Taliban law enforcement officers approached them, sometimes violently, and ordered them to cover themselves.

In the northern province of Takhar, Farahnaz, a university student, said religious police have set up checkpoints to inspect rickshaws carrying women to class. Those who weren’t covered in all-black hijabs were abused and sent home, he said.

“I had a colorful scarf, but they sent me home and told me I had to wear a black hijab and a niqab,” he said, referring to a garment that covers the hair and face except for the eyes. She asked to be identified only by her name for fear of retaliation.

Anisa Mohammadi, 28, a lawyer from Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, said she bought a burqa because she feared her honor would be called into question if she didn’t wear it. She said the religious police were closely monitoring the women and ordering them to cover themselves.

In Baghlan province, also in northern Afghanistan, Maryam, 25, a women’s rights activist who refused to cover her face, said a friend had been warned she would be whipped if she continued. to wear only a veil.

“I’m afraid,” said Maryam, who asked that her last name not be published. “The Taliban told me I had better not go back to the city if I didn’t have my face covered.”

In Kabul, a 24-year-old college student who wore a headscarf but did not cover her face in a popular recreation area said she was hit in the head by the butt of a rifle wielded by a passing Taliban gunman who yelled at her to cover herself. her face.

Taliban gunmen pointed their weapons at the protesters, sprayed them with pepper spray and called them “whores” and “puppets of the West”, Human Rights Watch said so.

Local media reported that some students from Kabul University had been sent home by Taliban law enforcement agencies for failing to comply with the hijab decree. And Human Rights Watch reported that the Taliban religious police tried to coerce Afghan women who work for the United Nations mission to Kabul to cover.

Muhammad Sadiq Akif, spokesman for Virtue and the Deputy Ministry in Kabul, denied that the women were approached or punished. He said the ministry patrols did not force the women to cover up, but simply explained the decree to encourage full compliance.

And he denied that the women had been forced to wear black hijab, saying they could wear hijab of any color.

“Out of respect for the sisters of our country, we do not stop, summon or punish any woman,” she said in an interview with the ministry, which replaced the former government’s women’s affairs ministry.

“The hijab is God’s command and must be observed,” Akif said, adding that the regulation for women was “for their own protection.”

The decree, provided for by art the supreme leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, imposed a series of increasing penalties, including prison, for the male relatives of women who repeatedly refused to cover themselves. Mr. Akif said some men had been formally warned but not punished.

That pressure has been denounced by some women. “My father and my brothers have no problem with me,” said Mozhda, 25, a women’s rights activist in Mazar-i-Sharif who refused to cover her face and asked to be identified only with her own. name for fear of retaliation.

Until the acquisition last summerthe Taliban had been out of power for 20 years and many women, especially in the cities, got used to more relaxed customs.

“Women are now not like women 20 years ago and the Taliban should understand that,” said Fatima Farahi, 55, a women’s rights activist in Herat, western Afghanistan.

Ms. Farahi said she and several other women in Herat refused to cover their faces. So far, she said, she and her colleagues had not been threatened by the Taliban.

In Kabul, protesters, who call themselves the Movement of Powerful Women of Afghanistan, vowed to continue protesting and to use social media to urge women to challenge the decree.

When Taliban gunmen ordered them to stop a recent demonstration, a protest leader, Munisa Mubariz, shouted, “You can’t stop our voices!”

The women said they were warned they would be jailed for five days if they protested again.

Five Western journalists and two Afghan journalists reporting on the demonstration were also detained and interrogated for two hours, separated from the women, and subsequently released unharmed.

Mr. Akif of the Virtue and Deputy Ministry said the women who protested made a mistake and “got the right understanding” of the decree from Taliban officials.

“It is not allowed to stand up or protest any kind of Islamic sentence and it is considered a crime,” he said. “If they understand and are shown the right path, they will never do these things. I’m sure they’ll stick to it. “

Absolutely not, said Zakia Zahadat, one of the demonstrators.

“I’ll be back – I won’t stop protesting,” said Ms. Zahadat, 24. “We are facing an economic, social and political crisis, but are the Taliban only interested in the hijab? Does this mean that if we wear the hijab all our problems will be solved? “

Jamila Barati, 25, another protester, said: “Women must fight for their rights, regardless of the risks. I will not stop protesting. “

Several women said their husbands or parents had begged them to stop. The women said they received threatening phone calls from Taliban security officials. Some said they moved from house to house to avoid getting caught.

Ms. Hassanzada said that her mother had asked her to always stay indoors.

But, Ms. Hassanzada said, she has still spent most of her time at home since the Taliban fired her from her job at a government ministry. After returning home safely on the day of the last protest, she said, she repeated a promise made to her mother.

“I said I would never leave the house, except to protest,” he said.

Najim Rahim contributed to the reporting from Houston, e Safiullah Padshah Other Kiana Hayeri from Kabul.

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