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Afghan Taliban Orders Women To Wear Burqa Coverings In Public

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A woman wearing a burqa with a child walk past Taliban fighters along a roadside in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (file photo)

Afghanistan's Taliban authorities have ordered all women to cover their faces, the latest in a series of restrictions that have drawn criticism from many Afghans and the international community.

The decree, announced at a news conference in the capital, Kabul, on May 7, calls for women to only show their eyes and recommends they wear the head-to-toe burqa.

A spokesman for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice read out the decree and said it was issued in the name of the group's supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada.

Failure to comply will result in a woman's father or closest male relative being reprimanded, imprisoned, or fired from employment, the decree said.

“We want our sisters to live with dignity and safety,” Khalid Hanafi, acting minister for the ministry, was quoted as saying.

The UN Assistance Mission In Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it was “deeply concerned” with the Taliban announcement and that the “decision contradicts numerous assurances regarding respect for and protection of all Afghans’ human rights, including those of women and girls.”

UNAMA added that it would seek meetings with “Taliban de facto authorities to seek clarification on the status of this decision.”

The U.S. State Department also expressed concerns about the erosion of women's rights in Afghanistan.

"We are extremely concerned that the rights and progress Afghan women and girls have achieved and enjoyed over the last 20 years are being eroded," a spokesperson said.

Washington and its allies "remain deeply troubled by recent steps the Taliban [has] taken directed at women and girls, including restrictions on education and travel."

Head scarves are common for most Afghan women, but in urban areas such as Kabul, many do not cover their faces.

One female activist in Kabul, who is a lawyer and does not want to be identified for security reasons, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that Afghan women used to wear the hijab and were Muslims before the Taliban.

"They (Afghans) used to be Muslims, whether they are Taliban in power or not. Unfortunately, the Taliban is always trying to get concessions from women," she said. "Sometimes it debates about women's education and sometimes it talks about the hijab for women. But it has forgotten the basic and important problems of hunger, poverty, and many other things in Afghanistan."

Girls have been banned from school beyond the sixth grade in most of the country since the Taliban’s return last August.

In March, the Taliban ordered girls' high schools closed on the morning they were scheduled to open. But in Kabul, private schools and universities have operated uninterrupted.

The United States and other nations have cut development aid and enforced strict banking sanctions since the Taliban takeover amid the sudden, chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi is one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

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