Taliban parade women in hooded veils that appear to block vision

The Taliban have paraded women in black robes with hoods that cover their faces and appear to block their vision, a radical dress-code that has raised concern about their plans for female education. 

Several dozen women wearing black robes, some with hoods over their faces and gloves covering their hands, were gathered in a lecture theater to hear speakers decry the West and back Taliban education policies at Kabul university on Saturday.

"In Western societies we have seen how much they believe in their values and how they defend their values. They can’t even tolerate the hijab of Muslim women," one speaker said. 

She added that women who have recently protested against Taliban rule are "not true representations of Afghan women, and they are not representing us. They pursue their personal interests by falsely claiming to represent Afghan women."

The outfits worn at the meeting on Saturday drew comment because of the use of a hood covering the eyes, something unheard of in Afghanistan and rarely seen even in the most extreme religious settings elsewhere.

During the Taliban’s first regime between 1996 and  2001, women were forced to wear a blue burqa with a mesh panel for eyesight.

Women under the Islamic State’s so-called Caliphate in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2019 wore a black niqab and gloves, but left an eye-slit to see through.

A veiled student speaks to a gathering of female students before a pro-Taliban rally at the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul on September 11

Credit: AFP

Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the Taliban’s higher education minister said on Sunday that he intended to keep universities open to women as long as they wore “hijab”, but did not specify whether that meant a headscarf or face covering.

He also confirmed the Taliban would enforce a complete ban on mixed-sex teaching.

"We have no problems in ending the mixed-education system… The people are Muslims and they will accept it," he said on Sunday.

The Taliban has repeatedly promised to preserve female education and women’s rights within "the framework of Islamic law", since it came to power last month.

But activists and academics have warned that a blanket end to co-ed classes in secondary and university level education will amount to a de-facto ban on teaching women and girls because institutions lack the extra class rooms and female staff required to meet the new rules.

Mr Haqqani denied that, saying that sufficient female staff could be found and that alternative arrangements could be made in the meantime.

"It all depends on the university’s capacity," he said. "We can also use male teachers to teach from behind a curtain, or use technology.”

One female activist who asked to remain anonymous because she is still in Kabul told the Telegraph that the promises were a "lie" and that students had been forced to stay at home because universities do not know how to implement the new rule.

Columns of similarly dressed women chanting pro-Taliban slogans were seen marching in Kabul and Kandahar over the weekend, in an apparent attempt by the Taliban to counter a series of female-led opposition protests.

Veiled students hold Taliban flags as they listen a speaker before a pro-Taliban rally at the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul

Credit: AFP

Natiq Malikzada, a local journalist, said one of the women involved had told him the Taliban summoned students to the hall and “pressured” them to wear black robes.

“They told us that if you do not attend, you will be expelled from university and you will never go to university anywhere," Mr Malikzada said the woman said.

Photographs of the meeting drew a backlash on social media, with Afghan women posting pictures of themselves in traditional Afghan dress under the hashtag "DoNotTouchMyClothes."

"This is Afghan culture. I am wearing a traditional Afghan dress," Bahar Jalai, an academic, posted with a picture of herself in a green dress.  

Others said they had not seen outfits where a hood is used to cover the eyes even in the most conservative and religious areas of Afghanistan. 

Taliban fighters cracked down harshly on mostly-female protesters demonstrating against their rule last week, beating demonstrators and arresting and torturing journalists at the scene.

Taliban fighters violently broke up a protest against limits on women’s civil rights and the perceived influence of Pakistan in Afghanistan last week.

Some fighters used the pretext that women should not be on the street and that they should not be filmed or photographed, although others simply said the protest was illegal because it had not been officially sanctioned.

Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan who chose to remain in Kabul after the government collapsed, said he had used private conversations with the Taliban to urge the group to preserve the gains made by female education over the past 20 years.

"In my view, the general principle of hijab — which Afghan women do anyway — is enough…there should not be any more stringent measures,” he told the BBC.

Additional reporting by Suddaf Chaudry

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