Afghanistan, Terrorism, Women
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Afghanistan: Since the return of the burqa, women are slowly disappearing from the streets

On May 7, the Taliban ordered all Afghan women to wear the full-coverage burqa in public places. Since the decree was put in place, the difference in Afghanistan’s streets is visible. Or rather it’s invisible: women have all but deserted public streets to remain cloistered in their homes. Although our Observer dared to leave home to protest with other women’s rights activists on May 10, she has no illusions about the future that awaits her.

“Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes, as per sharia directives, in order to avoid provocation when meeting men who are not mahram (adult close male relatives),” says the decree, which came into force on May 7, announced by Taliban leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada.

The images of daily life in Kabul, Herat or Mazar-e Sharif on social media show that the order has been followed: women seem to be absent from the streets, markets and parks.

Video shot in Kabul, on May 19, 2022. No women are visible.

Akhundzada specified the consequences for breaking this decree on May 6: “First, the woman wearing immoral clothes will be punished; second, her husband will be summoned and detained for three days, and if he works in the public sector, he will be fired.”

The decree states that the best type of covering for women is the blue chadari, a type of full-length veil that was first imposed by the Taliban when they were in power between 1996 and 2001.

On May 10, however, women protested in the streets of Kabul. Wearing less conservative veils than required by the new law, they chanted, “The burqa is not our hijab.”

‘Public spaces are being emptied of women’

Lena (not her real name) is a young Afghan woman who has decided to wear the burqa so that she can continue to go out.

Since the announcement by the Taliban, I have been wearing the blue chadari. Before, I used to wear a veil on my head and a long coat, like many other young women. Now, if I don’t wear the chadari, I will have to stay at home, which is not an option. I want to walk in the streets and parks, I want to see my friends, this may be the last chance we have as women in Afghanistan to have fun.

But it is clear that since the decree, I see fewer and fewer women outside. Public spaces are being emptied of women. As long as you wear the chadari, the Taliban won’t give you any trouble.

But the smallest detail can cause headaches. A few days ago I was in a park. There were some teenage girls eating an ice cream, which obviously is not possible with a chadri. Some Taliban members came and asked them to wear their chadari properly. At first they tried to ignore them, but eventually they agreed.

However, I noticed that the Taliban were looking around, as if they were afraid of being recorded. As one of them was about to hit the girls, the other one told him, ‘No, no, someone might film it and I don’t want to get in trouble’. They want to continue to look good in appearance, so as not to interrupt their efforts to gain international recognition. But I think the future looks bleak.

Video shot at Kabul University, May 19, 2022. The Taliban banned students wearing coloured veils from entering.

Since their return to power in mid-August 2021, the Taliban have been trying to gain recognition from the international community, including Western countries, which have frozen millions of dollars placed in Afghan banks by the former Afghan government. Western countries were also the country’s biggest donors during the 20 years between the two Taliban regimes.

Photos of visitors to the citadel in Herat in western Afghanistan posted on Instagram. On the right, a series of photos taken between May 2020 and spring 2021, before the return of the Taliban; women are visible. On the left, photos of the same place since May 6, without any women. © Observers

‘I would accept wearing a burqa if they let women study and work, but they won’t’

Ziba (not her real name) is an activist for women’s rights in Afghanistan. She lives in the north of the country.

Since the Taliban took over the country, I have been wearing the burqa, even before they made it mandatory. I did it for my own safety, on the one hand, and on the other hand, not to be recognised as an activist. It keeps them away from me.

The bitter reality, as an activist, is that, yes, women dared to protest in Kabul on May 10. But from the first day after the return of the Taliban, women have protested, and in the end nothing changed. The women who could left the country, and we are stuck here, desperate, our sprits crushed.

Personally, I would accept wearing a burqa if they let women study and work, but they won’t. We are not human beings here anymore. [Editor’s note: School is forbidden for girls after the age of 13.]

I don’t go out that much, I basically stay at home, like most women, I guess. I can confirm that there are fewer and fewer women on the streets here. I think it’s the younger generation who are more unwilling to play by the rules, to wear the burqa and stay at home.

I am afraid that the situation will only get worse. I’m afraid that one day the Taliban will simply ban women from going out. And we will have no one to turn to.

Screenshot of a video posted on Snapchat on May 9, taken in a market in Kabul. No women are visible. © Observers

Our Observer’s fear is not unfounded: Akhundzada specified on May 6 that women “should stay at home, except in case of urgent need”.

According to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Afghanistan is the worst country in the world for women, ahead of Syria and Yemen.

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