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EDITORIAL: The Afghan Taliban returned to power last August promising women the right to education up to university level and freedom to work. They have since gone back on those commitments shutting the door on girls to secondary education and women from many government jobs, also forbidding them from travelling outside their cities if unaccompanied by a mehram (a brother or father) or not wearing hijab.

The Taliban have now issued a directive, approved by their supreme leader Mullah Habitullah Akhunzada, ordering women to wear hijab in public, which should fully cover the body, including the face. Stemming from patriarchy rather religion the new restriction reduces women to sexual objects/male possessions.

The directive describes hijab as a garment covering the body of a woman “provided it is not too tight to indicate the body parts nor is it thin enough to reveal the body” which speaks of an obsession with female sexuality even though Islam ordains men as well to observe hijab by lowering their gaze on the sight of a woman. Also, women are not required to cover their faces and hands during Hajj and Umra observances, a practice that goes back to the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and hence to be emulated.

The Taliban remain insistent on sexual objectification of women drawing inspiration from a local tradition. According to their leader, “they should wear a chadori [burqa] as it is traditional and respectful.” Women working in government jobs who do not follow the order are to be fired, and men whose wives and daughters do not comply will also lose their jobs.

And if any woman is caught without a hijab, her mehram will be warned, the second time he will be summoned, and on repeated offences will be imprisoned for three days. This amounts to blackmailing as it may force some women to comply so as not to allow their family members to be punished. Then there are many women who work not only to have meaningful lives but because they are the sole bread winners of their families; they cannot afford to lose their jobs.

In Kabul, they have already been protesting against creeping restrictions on their freedoms. After the latest severe restriction more have expressed defiance. Media reports say there were no immediate signs of the new order being followed in Kabul as well as Herat, considered to be a liberal place by Afghan standards, where people said they won’t accept changes imposed by force. That could potentially spark something bigger with all those disaffected by the Taliban rule joining hands. Yet another conflict in that war-devastated country is in no one’s interest.

The Taliban have been trying to break their diplomatic isolation, calling on the international community to recognise their government and help resolve the country’s problems. For that to happen they need to address the international community’s issues of concern that include giving women their due rights as equal citizens.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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