A Taliban official said Islam grants women the right to education, work, and entrepreneurship, and reiterated that the group is working to create a so-called “safe environment” for girls and women in secondary schools and the workplace.
“I must say that Islam has given women the right to education, Islam has given women the right to work, Islam has given women the right to entrepreneurship,” Taliban spokesperson of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, Sadeq Akif Muhajir, told Al Jazeera’s Start Here.
“If Islam has allowed it, who am I to ban it,” he said during the interview.
The comments by Muhajir came more than a year after the armed group took over the country and imposed several limitations on women’s freedoms, including a ban on secondary education for girls.
The move has drawn international condemnation and sanctions.
Since returning to power, the Taliban has among other things, shut down girls’ secondary schools across the country, ordered women to wear hijabs in the workplace and to cover their faces in public, and has banned women from travelling long distanced without a close male relative.
The restrictions on freedoms and movements are reminiscent of the Taliban’s last time in power in the 1990s, when the group denied girls and women the right to education and barred them from public life.
The armed group had promised women’s rights and media freedom after returning to power on August 15, 2021. But it has since backed away from its pledge.
The Taliban has defended its decision, saying such restrictions have been done to preserve “national interest” and women’s “honour”.
Afghanistan’s economic woes
Muhajir said there are currently “many women’ working in various ministries, including “people from the previous government”.
“I am working to create a situation where they can work in a way that protects their honour,” he said. “It shouldn’t be in a way like it was in the previous administration.”
But a study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) this year found that Afghan women’s employment levels fell by an estimated 16 percent in the months immediately following the Taliban takeover. In contrast, male employment dropped by 6 percent.
“In the pessimistic scenario in which restrictions intensify and women do not feel they can safely show up at their workplaces, the scale of job losses for women could reach 28 percent,” the report said.
Working Afghan women have previously told Al Jazeera that while the Taliban has not directly fired female government employees, it has restricted women from entering workplaces and has paid them a notably reduced salary to remain at home.
The Taliban’s return to power has exacerbated Afghanistan’s economic woes. The country has been reeling from a humanitarian crisis with more than half of the population facing hunger.
The Western-imposed sanctions and the freezing of nearly $10bn in Afghan central bank assets by the US have largely contributed to the collapse of the economy.
The Taliban has been criticised for imposing restrictions on women instead of focusing on saving Afghanistan from economic ruin.
The diplomatic isolation of the government led by the Taliban has further worsened the situation, with Western nations pressing the group to allow more freedoms to women as a condition for engagement.