How the Taliban is rolling back the freedoms of the past 20 years

Supreme leader has now announced that all women must cover their faces in public

A burqa-clad woman
A woman waits outside a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office to receive non-food items in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, on 8 March
(Image credit: Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty Images)

In Afghanistan, the Taliban’s retrograde and “inhumane” assault on women’s rights is gathering pace, said Hasht-e Subh Daily (Kabul). Women have already been forced out of most workplaces since the Islamist group returned to power in August. They can no longer travel on planes or by taxi without a male escort; in March, the Taliban reversed a pledge to reopen secondary schools for girls.

And last week its supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, went further, announcing that all women must cover their faces in public, ideally with the head-to-toe burqa. Those who don’t could face jail; government employees will be fired on the spot. Ours is now the only country in the world that forces women to cover themselves entirely in public, a decree based on “their harsh reading” of Islam. Our nation is “broken and sick”. Yet the Taliban is more interested in legislating about “the length of men’s beards and women’s robes” than in facing its problems.

When it first regained power, the Taliban sought to present a more enlightened face to the world, said Rafia Zakaria in Dawn (Karachi). This “Taliban-lite” pledged to honour women’s rights, and forgive those who fought against them. Yet now, with the country isolated abroad and facing a humanitarian crisis caused by sanctions and the withdrawal of foreign aid, its leaders seem to have calculated “that it is better to do what they want and be who they are”.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The regime faces vast problems, agreed Tolo News (Kabul). Its rival Islamic State terror group has carried out a series of deadly attacks in Afghanistan in recent weeks; and the opposition National Resistance Front claims it is regaining territory in parts of the northeast.

Afghans are paying a high price for the Taliban’s incompetence and cruelty, said Sima Samar in Der Spiegel (Hamburg). Hunger is “everywhere”; families are being forced to sell children into marriage just to survive. The burqa decree will perpetuate the imbalance of power between women and men; despite the risks, women’s rights activists protested the decision in Kabul.

The international community seems powerless to influence the regime, said Lynne O’Donnell in Foreign Policy (Washington). Following March’s schooling decision, the World Bank suspended $600m of aid earmarked for education, health and agriculture in Afghanistan. But the Taliban “haven’t budged”. The burqa edict suggests the group is determined to roll back the freedoms enjoyed by millions of Afghans over the past 20 years, and to treat women’s bodies as “the property of the state”.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.