Afghan activists raise concern over burqa edict, call it gender apartheid

While in the past the Taliban maintained that women would be accorded their rights, in work, education and society at large, the latest decision to enforce a dress code in public and allow them to leave their homes only in cases of necessity has raised alarms internationally

May 09, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Afghanistan women
(Photo: Zahra Rahimi/Twitter)

After the Taliban government in Afghanistan announced a decree prescribing women to always wear a burqa in public, several international rights organizations including the United Nations have raised the “alarm” over the condition of women’s rights in the country. Local activists have called the edict a form of “gender apartheid”.

An official from the Vice and Virtue ministry, Shir Mohammad, had said in a press briefing in Kabul, “firstly those women who don’t wear the hijab must be identified and their guardians should be advised and the women themselves should be punished.”

“Secondly their guardians should be brought to the relevant department for explanation. Thirdly their guardian should be jailed for three days. Fourthly, their guardians should be tried and punished accordingly,” he said.

As per Afghan Bakhtar news agency, the decree was a draft law that had been “approved and implemented” by Taliban’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.

On May 8, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that he is alarmed that “women must cover their faces in public and leave home only in cases of necessity. I once again urge the Taliban to keep their promises to Afghan women and girls, and their obligations under international human rights law.”

The announcement has invoked widespread criticism from local activists, rights groups and feminists, who claim that such forcible measures will not offer the Taliban any legitimacy. The Taliban government is already grappling with lack of international recognition amidst a worsening economic crisis and widespread hunger.

Those condemning the Taliban decree added that no individual or leader has the right to impose personal views on the population. The announcement is likely to fuel grievances that may spill over in the form of large-scale mobilizations against Taliban. “They can’t make half the Afghan population invisible in the process of making them disappear in public. Women like me not accept this,” one woman who wished to remain anonymous told AP

Activists highlight that women in Afghanistan work in farms in almost every village, participate in different sports, and had previously joined the security establishment as well. They will not be able to carry out their daily affairs or choose certain careers if the decree is implemented. 

Shaharzad Akhbar, the former head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, tweeted, “the world is a bystander to our pain, to an apartheid, to complete tyranny.” 

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in a statement highlighted that this formal directive “contradicts numerous assurances” offered by the Taliban de facto authorities in different negotiations and discussions. 

The decision clearly violates the basic norms of human rights, especially those of women and girls, that had been provided to the international community by Taliban representatives, UNAMA noted. While in the past the Taliban maintained that women would be accorded their rights, in work, education and society at large, the latest decision to enforce a dress code in public and allow them to leave their homes only in cases of necessity contradicts those previous assurances.

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