DDespite everything that has happened to her country since the Taliban took power last August, 29-year-old Nafisa still can’t believe that one day she won’t be able to feel the sun on her face as she was walking the streets of Kabul.
Yet on Saturday, the Taliban’s ominously named Ministry for the Spread of Virtue ordered that Nafisa, along with millions of women across Afghanistan, should ideally not leave home at all. If they do, they must be fully veiled and never show their face in public.
“The Taliban have no plans for Afghanistan other than to impose restrictions on women,” says Nafisa, who says she rejects the Taliban’s latest attempts to push Afghan women into the shadows. “I do not accept compulsory hijab and I will never wear a burqa.”
The new restrictions force women to wear either a burqa, the head-to-toe covering that only allows women to see through a small grid at eye level, or a full niqab, which covers the face but not the eyes. Most Afghan women already wear some form of hijab, but many in cities like Kabul previously covered only their hair.
Along with the decree, the Taliban issued a detailed set of restrictions and penalties that leave the women’s family members responsible for compliance and risk fines and jail time if seen in public in the open. If women working for the government come out with a veiled face, they will be fired and Taliban fighters will also lose their jobs if their female relatives do not comply with the new restrictions.
For many women in Kabul, the decree follows a campaign of harassment and violence by the Taliban and their henchmen that has intensified in recent months. Young women in the capital who had never lived under Taliban rule before last summer say the religious police have grown bolder, roaming the city streets looking for excuses to interrogate, intimidate and beat women because they wear colorful clothes, jeans or travel without a male companion.
Nazanin, a public university student, was beaten by the Taliban for sitting in the front seat of a taxi about two weeks ago in Kabul. âThey whipped me twice in the back. I felt like my bones were broken.
Nazanin said that after being beaten, the taxi driver was arrested and taken to the police station.
Shabnam, 23, who lives in Kabul, says she no longer feels safe walking the streets. Three weeks ago, Taliban fighters arrested her 12-year-old cousin, held her down and cut her hair in public because it was not fully covered by a headscarf. Soon after, his cousin and his family fled the country.
âThe Taliban took away my most basic right, which is the right to choose my own clothes, and that hurts me a lot,â she says.
Earlier this year, the Taliban arrested several women protesting forced hijab and held them in an unknown location until they were forced to release them following international outrage.
The latest restrictions are part of a concerted campaign to roll back decades of progress on women’s rights across the country. When they took power in August 2021, the Taliban said they had changed and would respect women’s right to a public life, but since then they have taken away women’s rights to travel alone, work outside health care and education.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) condemned the face veil decree as the latest attack on women’s rights, but said it believed it would be strictly enforced despite widespread international condemnation.
“Information UNAMA has received suggests that this is a formal directive rather than a recommendation, and will be implemented and enforced,” he said.
Names have been changed