Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have set up a ministry to “deepen virtue and prevent cargo” in the building that once housed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and which accompanied World Bank staff on Saturday as part of the forced relocation.
It was the latest worrying sign that the Taliban are restricting women’s rights when they settle in government, just a month after they overcame the capital, Kabul. During their first term in office in the 1990s, the Taliban denied girls and women the right to education and prevented them from attending public life.
Separately, three explosives hit Taliban vehicles in the eastern provincial capital of Jalalabad on Saturday, killing three people and injuring 20, witnesses said. There was no immediate claim to responsibility, but ISIL (ISIS) fighters, based in the area, are enemies of the Taliban.
The Taliban are facing major economic and security problems as they try to govern, and a growing challenge from ISIL would further stretch their resources.
In Kabul, a new sign stood outside the Ministry of Women’s Affairs announcing that it was now “the Ministry of Preaching and Guidance and the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vices.”
The staff of the World Bank’s $ 100 million women’s economic empowerment and rural development project, which ended at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, was escorted from the bases on Saturday, said project member Sharif Akhtar, who was among those removed.
Videos posted on social media showed female workers from the ministry protesting outside after losing their jobs. No Taliban official responded to the request for comment.
Mabouba Suraj, who heads the Afghan women’s network, said she was surprised by the amount of orders placed by the Taliban-led government restricting women and girls.
Meanwhile, the Taliban-led Ministry of Education invited boys from grades 7 to 12 back to school on Saturday with their male teachers, but it was not mentioned that girls in those grades returned to school. Earlier, the Taliban’s higher education minister said girls should be given equal access to education, albeit in gender segregated settings.
“It’s starting to get really, really hard … Is this the stage where the girls will be forgotten?” Sa Suraj. “I know they do not believe in giving explanations, but explanations are very important.”
Suraj speculated that the contradictory statements might reflect divisions within the Taliban as they try to consolidate their power, with the more pragmatic within the movement losing to hardliners among them, at least for the time being.
Taliban statements often reflect a desire to engage with the world, open up public spaces for women and girls, and protect Afghanistan’s minorities. But orders for its ranking on the ground are contradictory. Instead, restrictions, especially for women, have been introduced.
The UN said it was “deeply concerned” about the future of girls’ schools in Afghanistan.
“It is critical that all girls, including older girls, can resume their education without further delay. For that, we need female teachers to resume teaching, says the UN children’s agency UNICEF.
‘Find a middle ground’
Suraj, an Afghan American who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to promote women’s rights and education, said many of her activists had left the country.
She said she remained in an attempt to engage with the Taliban and find a middle ground, but so far has not been able to get the Taliban leadership to meet with activists who have remained in the country to talk to women about the way forward.
“We have to talk. We have to find a middle ground,” she says.
Although still marginalized, Afghan women have fought for and gained fundamental rights for the past 20 years and become legislators, judges, pilots and police officers.
The Taliban have shown little desire to honor these rights – no women have joined the government and many have been stopped from returning to work.
On Saturday, an international flight from Pakistan’s national airline left Kabul airport with 322 passengers on board and a flight by Iran’s Mahan Air departed with 187 passengers on board, an airport official said.
A Qatar Airways flight on Friday took more Americans out of Afghanistan, according to Washington’s peace envoy, the third such lift from the Middle East airline since the Taliban takeover and the frantic troop withdrawal from the United States.