The Taliban’s Supreme Leader Just Ordered Afghan Women to Stay Home

It comes after the Taliban broke another promise to let girls return to school.
afghan women work taliban
PHOTO: BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban’s top leadership has ordered women to stay at home and not go to work, an internal memo from the Islamist group’s interior ministry shows. 

It is the latest setback for women in Afghanistan, whose rights have been rolled back dramatically since the Taliban ousted the country’s Western-backed government in August last year.

A copy of the brief letter, which was signed on Wednesday, has been reviewed by VICE World News and appears to show that the Taliban’s internal communication team responded to two requests on whether Afghan women are allowed to work. 

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Qari Ehsanullah said in the letter that he had heard the supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, saying, “Women shouldn’t go to offices and work or go outside of their homes.” Unlike the rest of the letter, this part is written in bold type. 

The chief of staff of the Deputy Interior Minister cited the leader of the faithful, or Amir al Amunin, another Arabic name for the caliph.

Women's rights have become one of the most contested issues of the new government in Kabul, which insists on its own “Sharia law” with an “Afghan tradition” twist that compels women to mostly stay at home, and only leave with a male companion. 

The Taliban has been struggling to convince the rest of the world that this round of their rule is friendlier than their brutal reign in the late 90s that ended with the US-led Nato invasion in 2001. 

The group’s chief diplomats, mainly the senior Islamists who live in Qatar, have tried to pull off a public relations coup and convince other countries that the Taliban has modified its extremist views. The sombre messaging stands in contrast to other openly extremist groups, such as the Haqqani network and other regional groups of Taliban, which have been running a 20-year insurgency in the mountains and rural areas of the country.

The Taliban’s rapid takeover has sparked fears it will reimpose draconian measures from its previous rule, such as public lashings, stoning women accused of adultery and a ban on music. The group has stalled the right to education for millions of Afghan girls, last week sending home thousands of schoolgirls at the start of the academic year claiming their uniforms were inappropriate.

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Taliban representatives who met with diplomats in China this week said that the group will allow girls aged 11 and up to go back to school after the Islamists backtracked on their initial promise.

The previous Western-backed government was beset by corruption and accusations of incompetence, but women and girls in the ultra-conservative society managed to get into classrooms. The United Nations estimates that over 2.5 million girls received an education by 2021, starting from zero in 2001.

The Taliban has stayed vague on the issue of women’s and girls’ rights by issuing contradictory statements. Basic human rights for females have become a bargaining chip in a bid to have the Islamists’ government recognised as a legitimate administration by other countries.

The aid-dependent country’s pariah status had led to nearly 39 million people suffering after the group pushed out the Western-backed government and installed its own.  According to the United Nations aid agency reports, around 24 million people in Afghanistan are in need of food assistance, with 9 million of them on a brink of famine.