Pakistan Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai Monday took an exception to the Afghan Taliban government’s order of forcing women to cover their faces in public, a return to a signature policy of their past hardline rule, and an escalation of restrictions that are causing anger at home and abroad.
A decree from the group’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said that if a woman did not cover her face outside the home her father or closest male relative would be visited and face potential prison or firing from state jobs.
“We call on the world to co-operate with the Islamic Emirate and people of Afghanistan […] Don’t bother us. Don’t bring more pressure, because history is witness, Afghans won’t be affected by pressure,” Mohammad Khalid Hanafi, the minister for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, told a news conference.
In a hard-hitting statement released on Twitter, the education activist said the Taliban “want to erase girls and women from all public life in Afghanistan”.
Yousafzai said the Taliban wanted to keep girls out of school and women out of work, deny them the ability to travel without a male family member, and force them to cover their faces and bodies completely.
“We must not lose our sense of alarm for Afghan women as the Taliban continue to break their promises. Even now, women are taking to the streets to fight for their human rights and dignity — all of us, and especially those from Muslim countries, must stand with them,” she said.
Yousafzai asked leaders around the world to take collective action to hold the Taliban accountable for violating the human rights of millions of women and girls.
The group has said the ideal face covering was the all-encompassing blue burqa — in reference to the garment that was obligatory for women in public during the Taliban’s previous 1996-2001 rule.
Most women in Afghanistan wear a headscarf for religious reasons but many in urban areas such as Kabul do not cover their faces.
The Taliban has faced intense criticism from Western governments, but also by some religious scholars and Islamic nations, for limiting women’s rights including keeping girls’ high schools closed.
The United Nations’ mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement on Saturday that it would immediately seek meetings with the Taliban over the issue, adding it would consult with others in the international community on the implications of the ruling.
“UNAMA is deeply concerned with today’s announcement by the Taliban de facto authorities […] this decision contradicts numerous assurances regarding respect for and protection of all Afghans’ human rights,” the statement said.
The United States and others have already cut development aid and sanctioned the banking system since the group took over in August, pushing Afghanistan towards economic ruin.
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