The Taliban have heightened restrictions limiting women’s access to freedom and public society, prohibiting girls from returning to secondary school and women from traveling by airplane without a male companion, Reuters reports.
The Taliban’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice informed airlines on March 27 that unaccompanied Afghan and dual-national women would no longer be allowed to board domestic or international flights without a male chaperone. Taliban spokesmen had previously alluded to a ban, stating beforehand that male relatives should accompany women traveling abroad for academic study, and mandating that women be accompanied by male relatives on taxi trips longer than 45 miles, The Washington Post reports.
Women who were scheduled to depart the country before the new regulations took place were turned away at the Kabul airport, Reuters writes.
The government’s March 27 declaration followed an announcement earlier that week, on the Afghan new year, reneging on their promise to allow girls to return to secondary school after an absence of more than seven months, NPR reports. While boys were able to return to their secondary schools, girls who arrived at the school gates were turned away by Taliban officials, who told them to wait to return until they received official announcements. Female students were reportedly told to leave until they were ready to return in a “black face veil, a black chador and a black scarf”—uniforms in line with the modesty standards reimposed under Taliban governance.
The Taliban continue to claim that women will eventually be allowed to return to schools, with the Taliban ambassador-designate to the United Nations reiterating that the delays were a “technical issue of deciding on the form of school uniform for schools”. Yet the Taliban leadership has since declared that schools would remain closed to girls until a “comprehensive” and “Islamic” plan was put in place. Such a move would bring women’s rights back to the time of the first Taliban regime when women were unable to go to school or even leave the home without a male companion, reports The Guardian.
The news was met with tears and frustration by many Afghan girls and women, who had eagerly awaited the opportunity to return to school since the retaking of the country by Taliban forces. The Guardian detailed a small demonstration by girls and women who waved signs and chanted, “Education is our right,” near the Taliban’s Ministry of Education in Kabul.
Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education, tweeted her protest, writing, “They [the Taliban] will keep finding excuses to stop girls from learning-because they are afraid of educated girls and empowered women.”
Al Jazeera reports that the United States quickly canceled scheduled economic talks with the Taliban upon news of the school decision, with a State Department spokesperson stating that the closures were “a potential turning point in our engagement.” A joint statement released by foreign ministers of the UK, Canada, France, Italy, Norway, United States, and EU member states echoed the State Department, expressing disappointment at the decision amid efforts by Taliban leaders to gain international legitimacy.
Afghanistan, which has been in a state of collapse since mid-summer, is suffering immensely under international sanctions. Humanitarian aid and economic assistance have been largely withheld by foreign governments or were contingent upon promises for women’s and human rights, which the Taliban failed to implement. The UNICEF World Food Program estimates that 23 million Afghans currently face acute hunger, and according to the UN Development Program, up to 1 million children under the age of 5 could die by the end of the year due to the food and water crisis.