The Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada ordered the Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to make hijab mandatory for all women a few months ago. Since then, the Taliban’s government has been enforcing Akhundzada’s instruction, using unruly methods.
The Taliban’s Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as religious police, have warned all female employees of the government that they would lose their jobs if they don’t obey the Taliban’s hijab rules.
They even threatened the male employees of the government that they will be fired too, if the adult women in their families don’t cover their entire body and face.
The Taliban consider burqa and Arabic head-to-toe cover as hijab, and anything less than the two isn’t unacceptable. Women’s entire body including her face should be covered when they leave home. At the center of the Taliban’s campaign of compulsory hijab is the group’s religious police who are constantly seen in the streets of Kabul and elsewhere in the country, encouraging and sometimes humiliating, insulting and assaulting women they think aren’t covered appropriately.
The leaders of the religious police travel across the country, attend gatherings to convey their message, and to gather support for their hardline agenda. The state-owned media also play a critical role in enforcing the Taliban’s order on women’s hijab.
Rukhshana Media interviewed more than ten women in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and Bamyan provinces for the story.
Mahjabin, a 23-year-old student at a private university in Kabul, said that one day she was interrogated by the Taliban because she didn’t not wear a mask and put on a colorful hijab. The Taliban forced her to call her father.
“I was forced to call my father who apologized and said ‘I won’t let my daughter leave home without a mask anymore,’” she said.
“My mother was about to have a stroke when I arrived home that day,” she said, “She was scared the Taliban might have beaten or arrested me.”
Mahjabin said her family members have become more attentive about her hijab after the incident, and that they are trying to make sure she covers fully before she leaves home everyday.
Zahra, a 20-year-old university student in Kabul, said she was once caught by the Taliban fighters in Pul-e-Sorkh area for not being fully covered.
“I apologized and said I did not know about it, and that it will not happen again, but they didn’t accept and told me I should call my family,” Zahra said. “The Taliban warned my family that they would take me to the police district if I don’t observe hijab next time.”
Zahra added her father and brothers have become more strict about what she has to wear when she leaves home after receiving the Taliban’s warning.
It isn’t only the hijab that could put women in trouble. Women and men, who walk together in the streets or traveling in the same car, are also often stopped at checkpoints for interrogation.
Zarlasht said she and her brother were in a car recently when they were ordered to dismount, and then the Taliban started questioning to determine whether they were siblings or lovers.
“They asked us twice to show our Tazkeras,” she said, adding that when her brother said they didn’t have them on, “one of the Taliban members got angry and assaulted my brother with a rifle butt.”
“He nearly opened fire,” she added.
Tazkera is the national identity card which the Taliban use to identify if the couple are related.
“I do not dare to leave the house since then if it isn’t necessary,” said Zarlasht, who lives in Kabul.
Samana, a 24-year-old university graduate from western Herat province, said she bumped into two Taliban fighters in an alleyway around three months ago. They called her a “whore” because she didn’t wear a burqa.
“I lowered my head and said, it won’t happen again,” she recalled telling the Taliban fighters. Samana said she was in a state of shock and cried when she arrived home after the incident.
The Taliban are also not allowing women without full covering to enter government offices.
Sabargul, a young woman in Kabul, said she was on her way to the Education Ministry when the Taliban’s religious police told her to get off the car and go home because she wore a knee-length and bright color dress.
“Are you not ashamed of your clothes?” she recalled the religious police telling her. She said the Taliban told her she wouldn’t be allowed to enter the building of the Education Ministry with what she had put on.
Women face similar restrictions in the central province of Bamyan. Sabira, a student at Bamyan University, said all female students are forced to wear a black Arabic hijab because if they don’t, they won’t be allowed to enter the campus.
She said the Taliban have installed written signs on the walls and the gate of Bamyan university strongly recommending female students to observe the hijab.
Most women traditionally wore burqa even before the Taliban’s return to power in Kandahar, a conservative province in the south. But the Taliban have imposed additional restrictions on women to limit their rights to work in that province.
A woman in Kandahar, who did not want to be named in the report, said that currently in Kandahar province, no women other than female doctors have the right to go out and work.
Women’s rights activists in Afghanistan say the Taliban are trying to eliminate women from society.
“The Taliban have made the outside environment terrifying for women so that they do not dare to go out,” said Parisa Haqjo, a women’s rights activist in Kabul. “Hijab, wearing a mask, or not wearing bright colors are just excuses.”
“Taliban don’t want women to be part of society,” she added.