The Taliban ordered all women to cover their faces when in public earlier this month, urging women not to leave their homes altogether if possible.
The militant group said punishments, including arrest or even jail time, would be imposed not on women but their male family members instead.
Rights groups say the repressive decree, in effect, forces Afghan men to police the behavior and appearance of their female relatives.
As armed Taliban fighters have enforced the new rules across the war-torn country, some Afghan women told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi that they have been barred by their own families from leaving their homes, where they are exposed to increasing abuse.
"Since the Taliban imposed this decree, men in my family have mistreated us," said a woman in the Afghan capital, Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They tell us that if we leave home, we will create a headache for them.”
"Now, we frequently face violent and aggressive behavior by [male] family members," another unnamed woman in Kabul told Radio Azadi.
Such complaints are rising across Afghanistan in the wake of a May 7 decree by the Taliban that ordered all women to cover their faces by wearing an all-encompassing burqa or a niqab that is common in the Arab Gulf states.
The decree warned that if a woman fails to follow the rules, her "male guardian" will be called in for questioning. The male relatives could then be jailed or fined. Female government workers could lose their jobs if they violate the decree.
The Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice on May 21 extended the new rules to female TV presenters, who must cover their faces on air.
Erasing Women From Public Life
Since seizing power in August, the Taliban has imposed a series of restrictions on women, including on their appearance, access to work and education, and freedom of movement. The rules are reminiscent of the Taliban’s first stint in power in the 1990s, when the militant Islamists deprived women of their most basic rights.
Human rights campaigners fear that the Taliban's latest restriction is an attempt to erase women from all public life.
“It essentially compels every Afghan man to become the jailer of his own female relatives,” Heather Barr, an associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told RFE/RL. “It is likely to increase domestic violence. It is incredibly disempowering and infantilizing for women and girls."
Barr says the decree "takes away one of the last shreds of autonomy" that Afghan women and girls still had under Taliban rule.
She said the Taliban’s “vision for Afghanistan is an Afghanistan where women have no role in public life, have no autonomy, have no choice, have no freedom, and have no future.”
Afghan men say the fear of arrest or imprisonment has forced them to police the appearance and behavior of their female family members.
“We know we are acting cruelly against our women,” said Najib, a Kabul resident. “But we are forced to do so.”
The Taliban's religious police have put up posters around Kabul ordering Afghan women to cover up. Last week, Taliban fighters prevented dozens of women from entering universities in the capital for failing to adhere to the strict dress code.
Abdul Rahman Tayyabi, the head of the Taliban’s religious police in the southern province of Kandahar, was quoted on May 23 as saying the group had launched a campaign against “women who don’t wear” a burqa or niqab.
Shamsia Azizi, a resident of Kandahar, told the Afghan news website Rukhshana Media that the Taliban’s campaign is “absurd and a mockery.”
The 28-year-old pointed out that most women already wore burqas in the conservative province where the Taliban first emerged in the mid-1990s.