The Taliban have ordered women in Afghanistan to wear the burqa – a dress that covers the body from head to toe – another step in the Taliban’s ongoing war on women and attempts to erase them from Afghan public life.

“They should wear a chadori (head-to-toe burqa) as it is traditional and respectful,” specified a decree issued by the Leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Hibatullah Akhundzada. “Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes, as per sharia directives, in order to avoid provocation when meeting men who are not mahram (adult close male relatives).” 

The decree added that if women had no important work outside it was “better they stay at home.”

The new directive has human rights groups worried about increasingly restrictive measures being passed in the country since the Taliban resumed control following America’s withdrawal in August.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement that it is “deeply concerned” by the Taliban’s latest decision which “might further strain engagement with the international community.”

“This decision contradicts numerous assurances regarding respect for and protection of all Afghans’ human rights, including those of women and girls, that had been provided to the international community by Taliban representatives during discussions and negotiations over the past decade,” UNAMA said. “These assurances were repeated following the Taliban takeover in August 2021, that women would be afforded their rights, whether in work, education, or society at large.”

Back in January, a group of UN human rights experts said that “Taliban leaders in Afghanistan are institutionalizing large scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.”

“Today, we are witnessing the attempt to steadily erase women and girls from public life in Afghanistan including in institutions and mechanisms that had been previously set up to assist and protect those women and girls who are most at risk,” they said, adding that there was an “increased risk of exploitation of women and girls including of trafficking for the purposes of child and forced marriage as well as sexual exploitation and forced labor.”

“These exclusionary and discriminatory policies are being enforced through a wave of measures such as barring women from returning to their jobs, requiring a male relative to accompany them in public spaces, prohibiting women from using public transport,” the UN human rights experts said. “Of particular and grave concern is the continued denial of the fundamental right of women and girls to secondary and tertiary education…the vast majority of girls’ secondary schools remain closed and the majority of girls who should be attending grades 7-12 are being denied access to school, based solely on their gender.”

The Taliban also kidnapped and abducted Afghan women, specifically activists, judges and lawyers. Back in February, for instance, the Taliban detained 29 women and their families in Kabul. Female Afghan judges and lawyers have been fearing for their lives because hundreds of prisoners they were responsible for sentencing were released from prison since the Taliban takeover. They are also at risk for their work in women’s advocacy. 

“They are women who had the effrontery to sit in judgment on men,” said Susan Glazebrook, president of the judges’ association and a justice of the Supreme Court in New Zealand. “The women judges of Afghanistan are under threat for applying the law. They are under threat because they have made rulings in favor of women according to law in family violence, custody and divorce cases.” 

The Taliban regime has gradually been turning back the clock more than two decades since retaking power and has now finally returned Afghanistan to the times before the 2001 invasion. Now, however, the Taliban has powerful supporters, such as China, which has its eye on the rich natural resources of the country. Afghanistan has some of the world’s largest untapped copper ore resources available for mining, estimated to be worth at least $50 billion, in addition to gold, oil, natural gas, uranium, bauxite, coal, iron ore, rare earths, lithium, chromium, lead, zinc, gemstones and marble.

The Taliban, in turn, needs Chinese investments, as the country’s economy has collapsed. The World Bank’s Afghanistan Development Update, released in April, showed that “per capita incomes are likely to have fallen by around one-third over the last months of 2021, wiping out economic progress achieved since 2007, and leading to significantly increased household hardship. The economic collapse has been driven by sharp declines in international grants, loss of access to the overseas assets of the central bank, disruption to international banking relationships, and a loss of investment confidence.”

Even before the Taliban takeover, the Afghan economy was in tatters and almost entirely dependent on aid coming in from abroad, with 43% of Afghanistan’s GDP coming from foreign aid and approximately 75% of public spending funded by foreign aid grants. Roughly 90% of Afghans had to live on less than $2 a day and around 18.4 million people – nearly half the country’s population – were in need of humanitarian aid.

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