Taliban decree no long road trips for women without male escort

Many women in public-sector roles have already been barred from returning to work

Taliban fighters stand guard as Afghan women protest at Shahr-e Naw in Kabul on December 16, 2021. AFP

Afghanistan's Taliban authorities said on Sunday that women seeking to travel long distances should not be offered road transport unless they are accompanied by a close male relative.

The guidance issued by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice drew condemnation from rights activists and called on vehicle owners to refuse rides to women not wearing a hijab.

The move follows the Taliban barring many women in public-sector roles from returning to work after they seized power in August, and as girls remain largely cut off from state secondary schooling.

It also comes despite the extremists seeking to project a moderate image internationally in a bid to restore aid suspended when the previous government imploded during the final stages of a US military withdrawal.

“Women travelling for more than 45 miles [72 kilometres] should not be offered a ride if they are not accompanied by a close family member,” ministry spokesman Sadeq Muhajir told AFP on Sunday, specifying that the escort must be a close male relative.

The new guidance, circulated on social media, also asked people to stop playing music in their vehicles.

Weeks ago, the ministry asked Afghanistan's television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas with women actors. It also called on women TV journalists to wear a hijab while presenting.

Mr Muhajir said on Sunday that a hijab would likewise be required for women seeking transport.

The Taliban's interpretation of what constitutes a hijab is not known and most Afghan women already wear headscarves.

Human Rights Watch condemned the guidance.

“This new order essentially moves … further in the direction of making women prisoners,” Heather Barr, the group's associate director of women's rights, told AFP.

“It shuts off opportunities for them to be able to move about freely, to travel to another city, to do business, to be able to flee if they are facing violence in the home.”

This month, the Taliban issued a decree in the name of their supreme leader instructing the government to enforce women's rights.

“The Islamic Emirate's leadership directs all relevant organisations … to take serious action to enforce women's rights,” the decree stated, quoting supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.

The decree makes no mention of girls' secondary education, which for millions has been suspended, or the employment of women, who have been barred from returning to jobs in the public sector.

The decree did instruct the Ministry of Culture and Information to publish material on women's rights to prevent “ongoing repression".

Respect for women's rights has been repeatedly cited by global donors as a condition for restoring aid.

Women's rights were severely curtailed during the Taliban's previous time in power.

They were forced to wear the face-covering burqa, only allowed to leave home with a male chaperone and banned from work and education.

The UN has given warnings that Afghanistan faces an “avalanche of hunger” this winter, estimating that 22 million citizens face acute food shortages.

Updated: December 27th 2021, 5:17 PM