Afghan women TV presenters cover faces on air after Taliban order

News channels say they faced pressure to comply with latest restriction on women from Afghanistan’s new rulers

Afghan TV anchor Khatereh Ahmadi wears a face covering as she reads the news on the TOLOnews channel in Kabul on May 22, 2022. AP
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Female presenters on Afghanistan’s leading TV channels veiled their faces on Sunday, one day after defying a Taliban order to cover up.

Since seizing power last year, the Taliban have imposed restrictions on women to conform with the group’s austere interpretation of Islam.

This month, Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered women to cover their faces in public, ideally with the traditional burqa.

The Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice ordered women TV presenters to follow suit from Saturday.

But the presenters defied the directive and went on air with their faces visible, only to comply the following day.

Wearing face-covering veils that left only their eyes visible, women presenters and reporters aired morning news bulletins across leading channels such as TOLOnews, Ariana Television, Shamshad TV and 1TV.

“We resisted and were against wearing a mask,” Sonia Niazi, a presenter with TOLOnews, told AFP.

“But TOLOnews was pressured and told that any female presenter who appeared on screen without covering her face must be given some other job or simply removed,” she said.

“TOLOnews was compelled and we were forced to wear it.”

I was called on the telephone yesterday and was told in strict words to do it, so it is not by choice but by force that we are doing it
Khpolwak Sapai, deputy director of TOLOnews

Women presenters were previously required to wear a headscarf.

TOLOnews’ deputy director, Khpolwak Sapai, said the channel was “forced” to make its staff follow the order.

“I was called on the telephone yesterday and was told in strict words to do it. So, it is not by choice but by force that we are doing it.”

On Sunday, male journalists and employees of TOLOnews wore face masks in the channel’s offices in Kabul in solidarity with women presenters.

Other female employees of the channel continued to work with their faces visible.

Ministry spokesman Mohammad Mohajir said authorities appreciated that media channels had observed the dress code.

“We are happy with the media channels that they implemented this responsibility in a good manner,” he told AFP.

Mohajir also said the authorities did not oppose the presence of female presenters.

“We have no intention of removing them from the public scene or sidelining them or stripping them of their right to work,” he said.

The Taliban leader’s decree also ordered authorities to fire women government employees if they fail to follow the dress code.

Men working in government roles also risk suspension if their wives or daughters fail to comply.

Authorities have also said that media managers and guardians of defiant women presenters would be liable for penalties if the order was not observed.

The Taliban’s orders reverse gains made by women and girls during two decades of US-led military intervention in Afghanistan, a deeply patriarchal nation.

Soon after resuming control, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But since the takeover, women have been forbidden from travelling alone and girls must leave school when they enter their teens.

In the 20 years since the Taliban were ousted from office in 2001, many women in the conservative countryside continued to wear a burqa.

But most Afghan women, including TV presenters, opted for only a headscarf.

Television channels have already stopped showing dramas and soap operas that feature women.

Updated: May 22, 2022, 4:39 PM