For Afghan women, the full veil is like a prison

Tahmina Taham, a young Afghan feminist activist, feels like she is in prison after the Taliban announced that women must now completely cover their bodies and faces in public and avoid leaving their homes.

On Saturday, the government issued a decree, approved by the Taliban and Afghan Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, making it mandatory for women to wear full veils in public.

The Taliban made it clear that their preference was for the burqa, this full veil most often blue and mesh at eye level, but that other types of veils that reveal only the eyes would be tolerated.

They also felt that unless the women had an urgent reason to go out, it was “better if they stayed home.”

When she learned of the content of this decree, the first concerning the way of dressing of women promulgated at the national level, Tahmina “felt ill”.

“I felt like I was imprisoned, because my whole social life is controlled by the Taliban,” this former government employee who lost her job when the Taliban came to power in August told AFP. .

“I was deprived of my freedoms as a human being, not just a woman,” adds the one whose sister had to interrupt her studies because her university refused to enroll her in a mixed class.

In her eyes, Saturday’s decision “will have very negative consequences on the personal and professional life of women”.

– Taliban radicalization –

On Sunday, this decree did not seem immediately followed by the effect in Kabul, many women continued to walk the streets of the capital without masking their faces.

The Taliban justified the fact that women have to hide their faces when they are in the company of a man who does not belong to their close relatives with the need to avoid any “provocation”, according to their ultra-strict interpretation of the Sharia, of Islamic law. .

But for Azita Habibi, a midwife in a hospital in the large city of Herat (west), Islam does not require the use of a full veil.

“Why do we have to cover our face and hands?” she asks her. “Where is it written that women’s hands and faces should be covered?”

These new restrictions, denounced in particular by the UN and the United States, confirm the radicalization of the Taliban, who initially tried to show a more open face than their previous passage to power between 1996 and 2001.

They then deprived women of almost all their rights, in particular by requiring them to wear the burqa.

But Islamists quickly renounced their commitments, largely excluding women from public employment, denying them access to secondary school or even limiting their right to move.

– Pressure on families –

To implement their latest decree, the Taliban have been concerned not to punish the women themselves, so as not to further shock the international community, but to impose the burden of this social control on their families.

Heads of families who do not apply the full veil first incur three days in prison, then higher sentences.

“I came to the conclusion that I should have worn the hijab, because I don’t want the men in my family to be punished and dishonored,” says Laila Sahar (not her real name), a former NGO worker living in Kabul.

Hoda Khamosh, an activist now residing in Norway, believes women will likely be forced to accept the full veil because “the Taliban are using (their) weak spot very cleverly,” along with their family.

But he thinks the women, some of whom have been demonstrating for their rights in the last few months before their movement was suppressed by the Taliban, “will not agree to stay at home or stop working.”

Over the past two decades, Afghan women have gained new freedoms, either by returning to school or applying for jobs in all sectors of activity, even as the country has remained socially conservative.

Fatima Rezaie, a resident of Herat, also wants to believe that women will not be forced.

“Women are no longer the same as 20 years ago,” when they were systematically forced to do things against their will, she argues. Today they are “ready to stand up to defend their rights”.

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