By: Sherin Yousfi
It was 9AM on a Thursday morning when six members of the Taliban morality police visited sixteen-year-old Spozhmai’s class. The experience of what happened next shook her so much that she hasn’t been back to the classroom since.
The visits from morality police are not unusual. They happen often without warning and for various reasons. But this time, Spozhmai was so terrified by what they did that she hasn’t felt she is able to go back.
“Taliban came into the classroom and told the girls very aggressively to raise their skirts so that they can make sure that the girls are not wearing jeans or fitted pants,” Spozhmai says. “We were all shocked.”
The Taliban forces also scolded any schoolgirls not wearing socks because it meant some of the skin on their legs is visible.
“I was crying. What kind of disrespect is this?” she says. “One of them asked me three times, What are you wearing under your skirt? I was pretending that I had not heard what he said. I rushed out of the classroom. I haven’t dared to go to the English language center anymore.”
Spozhmai is also angry.
“Where in Islam does it say that under a woman’s skirt should be checked?” She asks.
Several students of private educational centers in Kabul have complained about the Taliban’s behavior and tell Rukhshana Media that the group disrupts classes by storming into classrooms, harassing students and teachers, and even using physical violence.
The interviewees have requested that the names of private educational centers should not be mentioned in the report due to the fear of being identified.
On May 7, about eight months ago, the Taliban’s Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued a decree which made it mandatory for Afghan women and girls to wear the hijab. Most women in Afghanistan already wear a hijab, but this decree was a sign that the Taliban were going to start policing it. Furthermore, their interpretation of a hijab is more conservative than what some women are used to wearing. It was a shock to many women. A few months later, in some provinces, the Taliban made it mandatory for women to cover their faces.
The Taliban are determined to implement this decree. In Balkh province, they have ordered shopkeepers not to do business with women who do not wear the hijab prescribed by the Taliban. The entry of women without veils or burqas or if they are wearing colored clothes is also prevented in government offices, universities, and schools. Recently, according to the order of the Taliban, the students of private schools must also wear only black clothing from head to toe.
Khalida Paikan, a 15-year-old student in an English language center in west Kabul, says that three days ago, the Taliban morality police came to the school to check girls’ hijab and kicked some of the girls out of the class for wearing jeans, or colourful clothes, or shorter dresses over their pants.
“We were all studying in the classroom when four Taliban entered with white cloaks and weapons,” she says. “All the girls were shocked and scared.”
Khalida says that two of her classmates, who are between 10 and 14 years old, were sitting in the first row and were wearing jeans. They were expelled from the class with humiliation by the Taliban forces.
“They said, Why did you wear tight pants and a coat? You make society go in the wrong direction. Get out of the class! And they told the director of the course that these girls no longer have the right to come to the class.”
Since their return to power in August 2021, the Taliban have kept girls’ high schools closed. Some female students go to private educational centers to get around this ban. The girls who spoke to Rukhshana for this report believe the offensive behavior of the Taliban in these classrooms is aiming to intimidate them in order to put them off returning to the private educational centers.
Sakina, 17, says that three weeks ago, she was expelled from class for not wearing a black hijab. One of the Taliban pointed his gun at her and called her a whore in front of everyone.
“Taliban does not know human dignity at all,” she says. “One of them called me a whore in front of all my classmates and scolded me to get out of the class.”
Sakina has never returned to the English language center.
“I no longer dared to go to the course and see my classmates,” she says. “I was wearing blue jeans with a black coat and I was not without a hijab. They kicked me out just because of my clothes.”
Complaints about the abusive, ill-mannered behavior of Taliban morality police with women on the pretext of maintaining dress standards are widespread. A few weeks ago, the Taliban forces in northern Badakhshan did not allow female students who were not wearing a burqa to enter the university. Some were hit for arguing with the forvecs. In several reports, Rukhshana Media has documented how they were insulted, humiliated, and beaten and even the men accompanying them were arrested at the Taliban checkpoints in cities, all for reasons to do with women’s attire.
Sakineh says although it has been a long time since she was kicked out of the class, she finds her mind is preoccupied with the incident.
“The Taliban has made the situation very difficult for girls and they are forcing them to drop out of classes,” she says. “They enter the classroom with weapons and in a terrifying way. Whenever I remember the moment of insulting and humiliating the Taliban, I feel bad,” she adds.
Sitara, 19, says that the Taliban whipped one of her colleagues because her leg was visible.
“When they came to the class, one of them realized that Zahra, my friend’s leg was visible. He said in Pashto, “Stand up” and hit her leg three times with a copper whip. My colleague fainted from crying and fear and one of her friends took her home. She has never returned to the class since then.”
Mahjuba*, 14, says that two weeks ago, the Taliban expelled her from her class and humiliated her because of the colour of her clothes.
“He shouted at me, Are you not ashamed to wear red? They said young girls should not wear bright colors like red and yellow. He said. They provoke men in society. He dragged me from my shoulder and humiliated me in front of my teacher and classmates.”
Mehrmah also told Rukhshana Media about her experience. She witnessed two of her classmates being insulted for not having socks and wearing relatively short dresses over their pants. The Taliban told them that the men of their house are not good Muslims and that they allowed them to go out wearing such clothes.
In the mandatory hijab decree of the Taliban, the men of the family are recognized as the guardians of the women who must supervise the women’s clothing, otherwise, it is the man who will be punished and go to prison.
“They said that you get money from the west to promote their clothes and you are western prostitutes and against Islam,” Mehrmah says. “Only some of the girls did not have socks and some of them were wearing short dresses and colored ones.”
Many families were happy to go to private educational centers after their daughters were banned from schools. But this behavior of the Taliban has also caused families to worry and wonder. A mother told Rukhshana Media that the Taliban used her daughter’s hijab as an excuse to punish her and now she wants to make the girls stay at home.
Khadij, 38, is a mother of three children. Her eldest daughter is 15. She fearfully says that her daughter has become depressed because of the Taliban.
“What should I do if one day the Taliban kidnap my daughter from the educational center and take her away with them?” she asks. “The Taliban has made people disappear. And my daughter has had a mental problem since she saw the Taliban in the class.”
Sharmila, 55, is a mother of five. Her two daughters study English in a private school. She is worried about her daughters. However, despite her fear, she does not want to remove the opportunity for an education from her daughters.
“I am very worried about what will happen,” she says. “Their father has told them not to go several times, but I have insisted to him to allow them to go. Every day I am melting with anxiety until they come back from the language center.”
The Taliban’s restrictions regarding the clothing of female students have put the private educational centers of Kabul under greater financial pressure. The owners of several private educational centers told Rukhshana Media that they have lost more than 60% of their students since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 15 last year. For others its even worse.
Hamed Hamidi*, head of a Kabul private educational center, says that before the Taliban, there were more than 2,000 students, and now there are maximum 300.
“The Taliban have been coming every week to check on us, and every time they make stricter rules,” he says. “When we separated the classes, most of our students, who were employees or university students, could not come, and now that they enter the classes with weapons and violence, most of the girls are afraid and complain to us, and unfortunately, we have not done been able to do anything because (the Taliban) are don’t value logic.”
Jawid Jawadi*, the owner of another private educational center, says that the Taliban forces also extort money from him under various pretexts, including women’s attire.
“The Taliban warn us that if a girl comes to the educational center without a hijab, they will close the center’s gate,” he says “Every week, they come to the office and say that the students should wear their prescribed hijab. Female students are being discouraged to come to class this way,” he adds.
Note*: Names have been changed due to security concerns.