- Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid says the group has not taken a decision on whether to allow female bank employees in the areas which it controls
As the Taliban sweeps across Afghanistan, there are signs the militant group is going back on a promise allowing women to work, according to interviews with female bank employees forced out of their jobs.
The Taliban, which imposed strict law and barred women from work when it ruled Afghanistan between 1996-2001, has repeatedly said the rights of women will be protected should it return to power in Kabul.
But the United States and others fear the group would roll back many of the freedoms granted to women over the last two decades, including the right to work and study.
Early last month in the southern city of Kandahar, armed Taliban fighters walked into the offices of Afghanistan's Azizi Bank.
They escorted the nine women working there to their homes and ordered them not to return, instead allowing a male relative to take their place, according to three of the women and a bank manager.
Two days later in the western city of Herat, a similar scene played out in the branch of another Afghan lender, Bank Milli, according to two female cashiers that witnessed the incident.
Three Taliban fighters carrying guns entered the branch, admonishing female employees for showing their faces in public. Women there also quit, sending male relatives in their place.
"It's really strange to not be allowed to get to work but now this is what it is," Noor Khatera, a 43-year-old woman who had worked in the accounts department of Azizi Bank in Kandahar, told Reuters.
"I taught myself English and even learned how to operate a computer but now I will have to look for a place where I can just work with more women around."
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the group had not taken a decision on whether to allow female bank employees in the areas which it controls.
"After the establishment of the Islamic system, it will be decided according to the law, and God willing, there will be no problems," he said.
He did not respond to a request for more information on the two alleged incidents. Spokespeople for the two banks did not respond to requests for comment.
The insurgents have seized at least nine provincial capitals in the space of a week, and now control around two thirds of the country.
Afghan women working in fields including journalism, healthcare and law enforcement have been killed in a wave of attacks since peace talks began last year between the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government. The government blames most targeted killings on the Taliban, who deny carrying out assassinations.
As Taliban fighters wrested control over Kandahar in recent weeks, they started to push women out of professional jobs, which they say are unfit for women to pursue if they require them to work in the presence of men and expose their faces.
"The Taliban will regress freedom at all levels and that is what we are fighting against," an Afghan government spokesperson said.
"Women and children are suffering the most and our forces are trying to save democracy. The world should understand and help us."