Fahad Ali looks at Pakistan’s troubled neighbour
The Afghan regime’s repressive policies towards women is in power since more than a year and has consolidated its grip on power. It has started to show its true colours as firm believers in fundamental principles of Islamic teachings and have resumed following their own brand of treatment to be meted out to women. When they were allowed to come back to power last year it was given to understand that the Afghan Taliban would tone down their hard line interpretation of governance regulations pertaining to women and many vulnerable segments of population but contrary to the assurances given by them they have gone back on their assurances and have resorted to their original interpretation. They have ignored all calls issued by international community and donor agencies and have issued decrees that are highly prejudicial towards women.
In the latest of such actions the spokesman for the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated that Afghan women will no longer be allowed in parks in part because they had not been meeting its interpretation of Islamic attire during their visits. He added that for the last 14 or 15 months the Taliban regime was trying to provide an environment according to Sharia (Islamic law) and the regime’s culture for women to go to the parks but unfortunately, the owners of parks did not cooperate and also the women did not observe hijab as was suggested. For now, the decision has been taken that they are banned from visiting places of recreation.
It was not clear how widely the restrictions applied or how they affected a previous rule from the MPVPV saying parks, including open-air spaces, must be segregated by gender and certain days would be aside for women. At a Kabul amusement park containing rides such as bumper cars and a Ferris wheel, many witnesses observed several women being turned away by park officials, with Taliban agents present observing the situation. It was reported that a female Kabul resident was not allowed to get inside the park and was forced to go back and was told that the government has banned their entry.
Two park operators, who asked to remain anonymous to speak on a sensitive matter, said that they had been told by Taliban officials not to allow women to enter their parks. Since taking over Afghanistan last year, the Taliban have said women should not leave the home without a male relative and must cover their faces though some women in urban centres ignore the rule and some women have been permitted to work in government offices. Almost all women in Afghanistan wear a head scarf, or hijab, in public. However, the Taliban have said women should wear long flowing clothes that cover their bodies and also cover their faces such as the all-enveloping burqa. Some women in Kabul and other urban centres do not cover their faces in public and others wear surgical face masks.
Western governments have said the Taliban needs to reverse its course on women’s rights, including a U-turn on signals they would open girls’ high schools, for any path towards formal recognition of the Taliban government. It was not clear how long the park restrictions would last and whether they would be extended across Afghanistan. Park operators in western Herat and northern Balkh and Badakhshan provinces said they had not been asked to stop women from entering yet. Some women in those provinces have mentioned that they were watching the restriction in Kabul closely and were worried they might be applied in other provinces.
Up till now in these provinces the restrictions are not applicable but it is not known when they would be applied. In the meanwhile, the Taliban say that they respect women’s rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law but in practice that certainly is not the case as it has become clear as these restrictions manifest. Quite naturally opposition to such measures are widespread and they may harden the attitude of the global community.
It is also reported that gyms and public baths are now also off limits to Afghan women as the Taliban confirmed this fact days after banning them from parks and funfairs. Women are increasingly being squeezed out of public life since the Taliban’s return last year despite the hardliners promising a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first stint in power that ended in 2001. Most female government workers have lost their jobs — or are being paid a pittance to stay at home — while women are also barred from travelling without a male relative, and must cover up with a burqa or hijab when out of the home. Schools for teenage girls have also been shuttered across most of the country since the Taliban’s August 2021 return.
The Taliban officials said that Gyms are closed for women because their trainers were male and some of them were combined gyms. He said that “hammams” — traditional public bathing houses that have always been segregated by sex — were now also off limits. He added that currently, every house has a bathroom in it, so it will not be any issue for the women. One video clip circulating on social media showed a group of women, backs to the camera, lamenting the gym ban. The voice in the video clip stated that it is a women-only gym and the teachers and trainers are all women.
Activists have said the increasing restrictions on women are an attempt to stop them from gathering to organise opposition to the Taliban’s rule. Small groups of women have staged frequent flash protests in Kabul and other major cities, risking the wrath of Taliban officials who have beaten and detained them. Earlier this month, the United Nations voiced concern after the Taliban disrupted a press conference in the capital, submitting female participants to body searches and detaining the event organiser and several others.
Taking a firm stand America has imposed visa restrictions against Taliban officials and other individuals whom it considers responsible for repressing Afghan women and girls hoping to persuade the regime to reconsider its Afghan regime’s repressive policies towards women. The American secretary of state announced a visa restriction policy restricting issuance of visas for current or former Taliban members, members of non-state security groups, and other individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, repressing women and girls in Afghanistan through restrictive Afghan regime’s repressive policies towards women and violence. Secretary Blinken also called on other governments to join America in taking similar actions and to continue to underscore a collective message that only a government in Afghanistan that represents all its people and protects and promotes the human rights of every individual could be considered legitimate.
He defined the actions that constitute the violation of US visa rules as discontinuing, restricting access to education for girls and women; preventing their participation in the workforce, restricting their movement, expression, or privacy. Immediate family members of a violator may also be subject to these restrictions. In Kabul, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said the new US visa rules could have a negative impact on ties with Afghanistan’s government, which held talks with Washington though appeared rather indifferent about it. TW