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Taliban declares women and girls must cover up from head to toe in public

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The Taliban announced yesterday that women and girls in Afghanistan must now cover up from head to toe when they leave their homes. In a press conference to an audience of only men, they recommended women wear a burqa. That's the enveloping fabric with a netted mesh for the - on - for the face. On the line with us is NPR's Diaa Hadid. She covers Afghanistan from her base in neighboring Pakistan. Diaa, how did the Taliban make this announcement, and what else did they say?

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: OK, so they made the announcement at a press conference held by a ministry that has a long name. It's the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and the Propagation of Virtue. It's an ultraconservative institution that ensures compliance with the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law. And that's where officials said women have to wear a burqa or loose clothes, headscarf and face veil. And here's the thing. It's their male guardians who could be punished or jailed if their women defy the rules. And what that does is strips a woman of her existence as an adult citizen. It reduces her to a minor.

And the Taliban say they'll first start with persuasion, not punishment. And it seems so far, the rule hasn't been enforced. One of our Kabul colleagues says his sister didn't cover her face today, and nobody stopped her.

RASCOE: You've spoken to a few Afghan women. What have they told you about this - you know, male guardians and their women?

HADID: Right. Well, yeah, we spoke to three women, and they're pretty angry. This strips away their hard-won rights. But I should be clear, Ayesha, that they don't represent the views of all Afghan women. Many women do wear the burqa or otherwise cover their faces, particularly in the south and rural areas of Afghanistan. And so what this rule does is it targets those who really gain the most under two decades of Western-backed rule, like Lamar (ph), one of the women we spoke to. She's 18, and before the Taliban seized power in August last year, she used to wear jeans, a long shirt, a headscarf. That's basically the uniform of an Afghan urban girl. And she says enforcing the veil basically disappears women.

LAMAR: It's absolutely disappearing all the woman from public life, from society, from political engagement.

HADID: And she says the rule means that she no longer has control over her own body.

LAMAR: We can't even decide about our own body. It's very painful for me and other Afghan woman that somebody else, like Taliban, they are judging - deciding specific clothes for us.

HADID: Deciding for them. And the other thing is is that Lamar, like other women we spoke to, worries that this burqa rule, which punishes men for noncompliance, will lead to more male control over women.

LAMAR: They will decide about their sisters, about their mothers - her clothing style.

RASCOE: What else are you hearing?

HADID: Yeah. So we spoke to another feminist in Kabul. Her name is Naweda (ph), and she said the thing that made her angriest was that Afghan women have fought for their rights and really faced terrible violence during the time of the Western-backed Afghan government. An NPR producer, Hatha Hanni (ph), translated for her. Have a listen.

NAWEDA: (Through interpreter) In last 20 years, the girls faced a lot of blasts in schools and universities and institutes, but they still went to school. They were hungry, but they would study. And now whatever efforts they had done, the hard work they did, they lost everything. They came back to point zero.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Diaa Hadid talking to us from Pakistan. Thank you so much.

HADID: Thank you, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.