Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers dramatically reversed course Saturday and ordered women to cover up from head to toe, including their faces. For months the religious extremists attempted to appease the international community with assurances that the group had softened.
The war torn nation faces an escalating humanitarian crisis since the clumsy U.S. military withdrawal last year. The UN estimates 93% of Afghans do not have enough food, and at least 8 million face starvation. This seemed to temper the Taliban’s social ambitions for a time, but no more.
It did not take long for the victorious Taliban in Afghanistan to show their true colors once again.
Saturday, an announcement by the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue quickly changed that course. Besides women being required to cover their faces, the Taliban laid out an escalating series of punishments violators face. And it’s not the women who face them.
Initially, the violator’s male guardian gets a home visit by Taliban officials. Further violations result in that guardian, almost always a relative, summoned by ministry officials, and any subsequent violation may result in court and jail time.
Women who work in government offices and run afoul of the new decree will be fired.
The initial flexibility by the rulers now appears to be a mirage. First it was new restrictions on the media, which in November was prohibited from broadcasting drama, soap operas, and other entertainment featuring women. Then female newscasters were required to wear scarves on screen.
In December, women were barred from taking trips beyond 45 miles without a male guardian. This is done, officials say, to protect women. However, it is widely reported that after protests broke out the restriction was silently ignored.
In recent weeks religious authorities have assigned different days for men and women to visit public parks. Girls’ high schools were shuttered in March on the morning they were scheduled to reopen. And now many women are blocked from going back to their jobs.
Now the rulers are step-by-step reinstating restrictions in place when they ruled the nation from 1996-2001.