Afghanistan’s female TV presenters must cover their faces, say Taliban

File photo: In this photograph taken on January 30, 2013 a female Afghan news presenter reads the news at a studio in Kabul.
Image caption,Female presenters – faces uncovered – have become common on screen in recent years

The Taliban have ordered female Afghan TV presenters and other women on screen to cover their faces while on air.

Media outlets were told of the decree on Wednesday, a religious police spokesman told BBC Pashto.

The ruling comes two weeks after all women were ordered to wear a face veil in public, or risk punishment.

Restrictions are being tightened on women – they are banned from travelling without a male guardian and secondary schools are shut for girls.

One female Afghan journalist working for a local TV station in Kabul, who did not want to be named, said she’d been shocked to hear the latest news.

“They are putting indirect pressure on us to stop us presenting on TV,” she told the BBC.

“How can I read the news with my mouth covered? I don’t know what to do now – I must work, I am the breadwinner of my family.”The new decree will take effect from 21 May, Reuters news agency reported, quoting a spokesman for the Taliban’s Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue.

(From August 2021) Female presenters return on Afghanistan’s Tolo News, with one interviewing the Taliban

The spokesman referred to the ruling as “advice” – it is not clear what will happen to anyone who fails to comply.

“Based on information received by Tolo news, the order has been issued to all media outlets in Afghanistan,” the news channel reported.

The decision is being widely criticised on Twitter, with many calling it another step by the Taliban to promote extremism.

“The world deploys masks to protect people from Covid. The Taliban deploys masks to protect people from seeing the faces of women journalists. For the Taliban, women are a disease,” one activist tweeted.

The private Shamshad news channel posted a photo of its news presenter wearing a mask, and other similar images are being shared on social media.

During their first stint in power in the 1990s the Taliban forced women to wear the all-encompassing burka in public.

The hardline Islamist movement was driven from power by US-led troops in 2001, after which many restrictions eased. Women appearing on television showing their faces became a common sight.

After retaking power last August, following the withdrawal of foreign forces, the Taliban had held off issuing new laws on what women should wear.

This raised hopes they would govern Afghanistan, a deeply conservative and patriarchal country, more flexibly this time.

A burka-clad woman and a girl on a street in Kandahar on 5 March 2022
Image caption,The burka was enforced by the Taliban in the 1990s and still worn by many women

Many women still wore the burka, but in bigger cities it was also common to see women continuing to wear headscarves.

However in early May the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue announced that all women would have to cover their face in public, and indicated that a burka would be the ideal garment to achieve this.

Anyone refusing to comply with the ruling risks an escalating series of punishments.

Infographic showing different types of Muslim head coverings for women

Most Muslims around the world do not consider women covering their face mandatory, or oppose them working.

Women are still employed in some jobs in Afghanistan, such as healthcare and education, but many others have been told not to return to work now the Taliban are back in power.

The country has been plunged into economic crisis and famine under Taliban rule.

Western diplomats have indicated that resuming development funding and unlocking frozen cash depends on better treatment of women.

But early hopes the Taliban might relax their approach have been eroded amid signs influential hardliners in the group have the upper hand.

The journalist in Kabul who spoke to the BBC wanted the international community to put pressure on the Taliban.

“They should tell them you have 10 days to change otherwise we are going to cut off relations and aid.”

She said she believed the Taliban planned to stop women doing all kinds of work outside their homes. “They want women to live like prisoners at home. Every day they issued decrees against us – I don’t think we can survive.”

The Taliban are pretending that they are living in the 15th century.

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