UN ‘concerned’ Taliban detaining Afghan women for dress code violations

Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says the UN preoccupation with Afghan women is unwarranted.

An Afghan woman
Since returning to power in 2021, the Taliban has imposed numerous strict rules regulating the lives of Afghan women [File:Ali Khara/Reuters]

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan is “deeply concerned” about Taliban authorities arbitrarily arresting and detaining women and girls it accuses of violating dress codes regarding the Islamic headscarf, or hijab.

In a statement on Thursday, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it had “documented a series of hijab decree enforcement campaigns” taking place since January 1 in Kabul and Daykundi provinces.

These were under orders from the Taliban’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and the police, it said, and women had been “warned” and “detained”.

To secure a woman’s release from detention, UNAMA said her male guardian, also called a mahram, was required to sign a letter guaranteeing her future compliance or else face punishment.

The mission said it was looking into claims of ill-treatment of the women and extortion in exchange for their release, and warned that physical violence and detentions were demeaning and dangerous.

Since returning to power in August 2021, Taliban authorities have imposed numerous restrictions on women and girls, with laws the UN has labelled “gender apartheid”.

“Enforcement measures involving physical violence are especially demeaning and dangerous for Afghan women and girls,” said Roza Otunbayeva, UN special envoy and head of the mission.

“Detentions carry an enormous stigma that puts Afghan women at even greater risk,” she said. “They also destroy public trust.”

‘Pushing women into even greater isolation’

The Taliban said last week that female police officers have been taking women into custody for wearing “bad hijab.”

When the Taliban retook power in 2021, they ordered women to cover up when leaving home, stopped girls and women from attending high school or university, and banned them from parks, gyms and public baths.

They also barred them from working for the UN or NGOs, and most female government employees were dismissed from their jobs or paid to stay at home.

The UN mission’s statement said it “fears the current crackdown is pushing women into even greater isolation due to fear of arbitrary arrest, and creating a permissive environment for men to enforce repressive measures at home”.

The Taliban chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the UN preoccupation with Afghan women was unwarranted, and dismissed its concerns.

“Afghan women wear hijab of their own accord,” he said on X. “They don’t need to be forced. The Vice and Virtue Ministry hasn’t forced anyone [to wear hijab] either.”

In May 2022, the Taliban issued a decree calling for women to only show their eyes and recommending they wear the head-to-toe burqa, similar to restrictions during their previous rule of the country between 1996 and 2001.

A spokesman for the Vice and Virtue Ministry, Abdul Ghafar Farooq, earlier on Thursday rejected reports that women and girls were being arrested or beaten for wearing “bad hijab” and called it propaganda from the foreign media.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies