Taliban denies Afghan women solo air travel, segregates parks by sex and sends home men with short beards

Afghanistan Women Grounded
Posted at 2:23 PM, Mar 29, 2022

The Taliban rulers of Afghanistan continue to chip away at the freedoms the country knew for two decades, dragging Afghans back under their draconian version of Islamic sharia law and defiantly distancing their regime from the international community in the process.

The latest moves — both official and unofficial — include restrictions on women traveling, men's grooming, and access to international media and even public parks.

No solo flights for women

The Taliban have ordered airlines to stop women from flying without a male relative.

Employees of both an airline and a travel agency told CBS News the order was handed down to airline officials this week, though a spokesman for the Taliban's Ministry of Promotion of Vice and Virtue, Akif Muhajer, denied any such order.

In December, the ministry banned women making any journey of over 45 miles without a male chaperone.

"A woman booked to fly on a domestic flight was stopped from boarding and missed her flight. She came for a refund. She was crying, [saying she] had no male member in her family," said the travel agent.

Many Afghan families lost male members during the 20 years of war that started with the U.S. invasion to topple the Taliban regime in 2001. When that war ended, many other men fled Afghanistan fearing reprisal attacks from the Taliban, leaving women alone to raise families, and making their freedom of movement even more essential.

Grow your beard or lose your job

On Sunday, the Taliban refused to allow employees of several government ministries report for work because they had trimmed their beards or were not wearing clothing deemed appropriate under the rulers' interpretation of Islamic law.

Muhajer, the Ministry of Promotion of Vice and Virtue spokesman, confirmed the crackdown on government workers' appearance and said a letter was sent to all staff a month ago ordering men to wear a full beard and women to wear a hijab, or veil.

"Employees of the Ministry of Promotion of Vice and Virtue ombudsmen went to some departments following the order. Still some employees did not pay attention to the instruction and were stopped for advising," Muhajer said on Sunday.

Muhammad Sheer, who works for the Afghan government in Kabul, was among those turned back from his office for having trimmed his beard.

"The Promotion of Vice and Virtue people stopped us for a couple of hours and warned us that you should come with a long beard next time, or risk losing your job," he told CBS News.

Sex-segregated parks

In another draconian order, the Taliban announced on Sunday that all parks in the country would be segregated by sex.

A letter from the Taliban ministry of Promotion of Vice and Virtue said women would be permitted to visit public parks on three days every week, and men the other four days, including unarmed Taliban members.

The order means families and couples will no longer be allowed to attend parks together.

Blocking access to news

The U.S. State Department said in a statement on Monday that the Taliban was blocking Afghans' access to several major media outlets funded wholly or partly by Western governments.

The statement said the U.S. had noted with "alarm and deep concern" that the Taliban was refusing domestic distribution of broadcasts by the Voice of America, the BBC and Germany's Deutsche Welle (DW).

Those outlets "reported that their local broadcasting partners have been prevented from airing their programming in the country due to new, restrictive, and unpublished guidelines from the Taliban," the State Department said.

Not living up to "essential commitments"

The latest restrictions show the Taliban moving methodically back to the policies it espoused during the 1990s. They come less than a week after the country's rulers left students in tears with a last-minute announcement that Afghanistan's schools would remain closed to girls in grade six and above.

The Taliban signed a deal with the United States in 2020 paving the way for a complete withdrawal of American soldiers from Afghanistan, ending the longest war in U.S. history and paving the way for the Islamic extremist group to reclaim power across the country.

Since the Taliban retook Kabul and became Afghanistan's de-facto government again just seven months ago, representatives of the group have traveled to many foreign capitals hoping to gain diplomatic recognition.

But the U.S. State Department said the steady crackdown on basic freedoms in the country made it "clear the Taliban are not living up to the essential commitments they made to the Afghan people and the international community."

"Education and freedom of expression are human rights held by every person in Afghanistan. These are not Western values or concessions to the international community; they are human rights and essential to a peaceful and prosperous Afghan society, which is something the Taliban claim to desire," the statement said. "We urge the Taliban to cease these infringements on the rights of Afghans, and we continue to stand with the Afghan people."