August 24, 2021
ISLAMABAD – Female schoolteachers and other employed women in two provinces of Afghanistan are reporting harassment by Taliban fighters even as a Taliban spokesman Tuesday promised that the group is forming a policy to keep women secure.
Women in Takhar province, in the country’s northeast, and Kabul province tell VOA that there are new restrictions concerning how they dress and work.
“Taliban are very aggressive with women here. They want women to wear chadari,” a female teacher in Takhar told VOA. A chadari is a full body covering that has small holes to see through.
The teacher explained that the Taliban in the province were so strict that they did not even allow women to wear a black burqa, a long black gown with a scarf that covers the head and face. In addition, they want women to go out of the house with a “mahram,” a man from whom a woman does not need to hide her face. In conservative Islamic thought, mahram can include a limited number of close male relatives such as fathers, husbands or brothers.
“Women have a lot of problems here. Everyone needs to go outside for something, and you cannot have a mahram (close male relative) with you at all times,” she said.
She said Taliban have already barred teachers from teaching students of the opposite sex.
“They also ordered that the male and female students must be separated. And they changed the education curriculum,” she said.
The changes in curriculum removed cultural and sports-related subjects and added more Islamist teachings, such as the study of the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad, even though those subjects were already part of the curriculum prior to the Taliban takeover.
In Kabul, the Taliban told the female staff of at least one hospital to separate their workplaces from men or stay at home.
A female VOA reporter who went out of the house wearing a burqa was told by Taliban to cover her face as well.
On Tuesday in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group’s fighters were “not trained to talk to women.”
“That is why we are asking women to stay home for the time being, but they will keep receiving salaries. As soon as we have a full system in place, women can return to work,” he said. He was speaking in particular about women working in government offices and ministries.
When pressed by a female journalist who was worried about her safety, Mujahid said she need not worry.
“You are civilians. There is no crime being a journalist. You have nothing to fear. You can go back to your province and work,” he said.
He acknowledged that there may have been sporadic incidents of violence or harassment and promised to investigate them.
The Taliban have been trying to present a relatively moderate face to the world to gain international legitimacy. Women, and especially younger women, say they have heard their families’ stories about the Taliban’s last government in the 1990s — when women were beaten for not covering themselves properly, and girls were not allowed to go to school — making it difficult for them to take the Taliban’s words at face value.