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EDITORIAL: Despite promising to respect women’s rights the Afghan Taliban have taken steps to deny them even basic freedoms. Girls’ secondary schools remain closed. While ordering gender segregation at private colleges and schools, an education ministry notification has directed all female students, teachers and other staff to wear abaya and niqab covering hair and face, and gloves to conceal hands. Most women have been stopped from going to work. In a recent decree — ironically, issued from the place that previously housed ministry of women’s affairs — the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has banned women from travelling long distances without chaperoned by a close male relative. Public transport owners have been ordered to refuse rides to women not wearing the purported Islamic coverings. Posters have also gone up in downtown Kabul featuring burqas to show how women are required to be draped head to toe with only a net placed near the eyes to peer out. These impositions have caused a general sense of despair among women, leading many to stage protest demonstrations in Kabul against such coercive measures.

Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, had declared in the very first news conference following their takeover of Kabul that women’s rights would be respected within the framework of Islamic law — their version of it, of course. Their policy towards women and professed claims is a contradiction in terms as the following unimpeachable examples illustrate. The one tradition that has remained unchanged, and unchangeable, from the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is that of the dress code for the performance of Hajj and/or Umrah. Women cover their bodies with a white or black cloth, ihram, and their heads with abaya or hijab, but faces and hands are open. Also, there is no segregation; men and women perform the obligatory rites walking side by side. There can be no greater source of guidance than this. For, it shows women moved around without covering their faces or hands during the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). His wife Hazrat Khadija (RA), a role model, was a businesswoman. Women were free to participate in different walks of life, and own and control property — a right women in Europe gained only in the late 18th century. Clearly, the Taliban are not well-conversant with the traditions and teachings of Islam. The restrictions they are trying to enforce on Afghan women are extraneous to Islam, and come from regressive local customs and practices prevalent in some parts of the country, especially in south-western Afghanistan from where the Taliban rose to extend their influence and gain power in Kabul. The real purpose is to control women. Rather than serving the cause of an egalitarian faith, their policy directives and edicts bring a bad name to it.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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