The Taliban Is Forcing Female News Anchors to Wear COVID Masks

Afghan women are now coming under further pressure from the Islamist hardliners to cover their faces and only wear headscarves in approved colours.
taliban female news anchors masks
PHOTO: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Female TV anchors must now wear face coverings as well as a hijab, the Taliban says, as the Islamist group ramps up its rules around what qualifies as “modest” attire under its strict religious code.

Women reading the news have now started wearing COVID face masks covering their noses and mouths following the latest edict. 

The militants have also blocked female students wearing colourful headscarves from attending university classes in Kabul, saying they were inappropriate.

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Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's main government spokesman in Kabul, told a press conference on Thursday that the new rule wasn’t a big deal. “It doesn’t cause any harm, just like we saw in the past year because of coronavirus when everyone had to wear masks, so what is the issue then with following a religious order.” 

“It is an order to everyone without exception. I urge our sisters in Afghanistan to follow it, and it is a religious order. It is good for their honour and dignity and their families,” he said. 

Female presenters across all stations broadcasting in Afghanistan started wearing facemasks from Thursday. TOLO News, one of the country’s leading media organisations, confirmed that the Taliban had told them to cover up all female employees on TV shows. 

The Taliban’s leadership has been devastating for journalism in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban took over in September 2021, over 170 outlets have stopped their work in the country. 

Women’s rights have also deteriorated rapidly. The Taliban has blocked girls from attending secondary schools, despite promising they would be readmitted after adjusting the education system to Islamic standards according to the group. Universities still continue to take female students in gender-segregated classrooms. 

On Wednesday, female students at Kabul University were blocked from attending classes for wearing colourful headscarves. Videos circulated on social media showed groups of students wearing different coloured head coverings taken aside by armed men. 

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A Kabul university student told Vice World News over the phone that the Taliban told them to come back with black coloured scarves. “It is not easy to reason with the Taliban, and as students, we can only follow their rules, so they let us attend our classes,” she said.

“We are all dressed in black abayas, wearing face covering, and our scarves cover our hair properly. A coral, red, or yellow scarf shouldn’t be that big of an issue, but that is Taliban,” she added.  

Taliban militants at checkpoints in Kabul have started to berate women, criticising their head coverings “not being Islamic enough,” a Kabul resident told VICE World News. 

The group has tightened its grip over the country, which is in the grip of an economic meltdown and facing international isolation by the international community because of its draconian rules.