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Taliban's latest restrictions on Afghan women

KABUL, 27 DEC. The guidance issued by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice drew condemnation from rights activists and called on vehicle owners to refuse rides to women not wearing headscarves.

The move follows the Taliban barring many women in public-sector roles from returning to work in the wake of their August 15 seizure of power, and as girls remain largely cut off from state secondary schooling. It also comes despite the hardline Islamists seeking to project a moderate image internationally in a bid to restore aid suspended when the previous government imploded during the final stages of a US military withdrawal.

"Women travelling for more than 45 miles (72 kilometres) should not be offered a ride if they are not accompanied by a close family member," ministry spokesman Sadeq Akif Muhajir told AFP on Sunday, specifying that the escort must be a close male relative.

Weeks ago, the ministry asked Afghanistan's television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring women actors. It also called on women TV journalists to wear headscarves while presenting. The Taliban's interpretation of the hijab -- which can range from a hair covering to a face veil or full-body covering -- is unclear, and most Afghan women already wear headscarves.

"This new order essentially moves... further in the direction of making women prisoners," Heather Barr, the group's associate director of women's rights, told AFP.

It "shuts off opportunities for them to be able to move about freely, to travel to another city, to do business, (or) to be able to flee if they are facing violence in the home", Barr added. Early this month, the Taliban issued a decree in the name of their supreme leader instructing the government to enforce women's rights. But it did not mention girls' access to education.

Women's rights were severely curtailed during the Taliban's previous stint in power in the 1990s. They were forced to wear the face-covering burqa garment, only allowed to leave home with a male chaperone and banned from work and education.

Respect for women's rights has repeatedly been cited by key global donors as a condition for restoring aid. The UN has warned that Afghanistan faces an "avalanche of hunger" this winter, estimating that 22 million citizens face "acute" food shortages.

One of the commentators in the India Today columns said, "While Saudi Arabia is reforming its Islamic laws, illiterate Afghan Talibans are going back to middle ages!"




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