Female presenters on Afghanistan’s leading TV channels have appeared on air without covering their faces, defying a Taliban order that they conceal their appearance to comply with the group’s austere brand of Islam.
- Previously women had only been required to wear a headscarf
- Broadcasters TOLOnews, Shamshad TV and 1TV all aired live programs with women presenters’ faces visible
- Many female journalists have had to leave Afghanistan since the hardline Islamists stormed back to power
Since surging back to power last year the Taliban have imposed a slew of restrictions on civil society, many focused on reining in the rights of women and girls.
Earlier this month Afghanistan’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada issued a dictation for women to cover up fully in public, including their faces, ideally with the traditional burqa.
The feared Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice ordered women TV presenters to follow suit by Saturday.
Previously they had only been required to wear a headscarf.
But broadcasters TOLOnews, Shamshad TV and 1TV all aired live programs on Saturday with women presenters’ faces visible.
“Our female colleagues are concerned that if they cover their faces, the next thing they will be told is to stop working,” said Shamshad TV head of news Abid Ehsas.
“This is the reason they have not observed the order so far,” he told AFP, adding the channel had requested further discussions with the Taliban on the issue.
Taliban orders such as this have caused many female journalists to leave Afghanistan since the hardline Islamists stormed back to power, a woman presenter said.
“I’m thinking of leaving the country. Decrees like this will force many professionals to leave.”
Many Afghan activists posted on social media in support of female presenters, condemning the order as another step toward making women “disappear” from society.
‘Implement the order’
Mohammad Sadeq Akif Mohajir, spokesman for the vice ministry, said the women presenters were violating the Taliban directive.
“If they do not comply we will talk to the managers and guardians of the presenters,” he said.
The Taliban have demanded that women government employees be fired if they fail to follow the new dress code.
Men working in government also risk suspension if their wives or daughters fail to comply.
Mr Mohajir said media managers and the male guardians of defiant woman presenters would also be liable for penalties if the order was not observed.
During two decades of US-led military intervention in Afghanistan, women and girls made marginal gains in the deeply patriarchal nation.
Soon after they took over, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
Since the takeover, however, women have been banned from traveling alone and teenage girls barred from secondary schools.
In the 20 years after 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 the Islamic headscarf.
After the Taliban takeover, television channels were ordered to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring women.
Reporters and photographers were threatened, harassed, arrested and beaten for attempting to cover protests and stories that reflect negatively on the new leaders.
An estimated 75 per cent of radio and television broadcasting shut down entirely after the Taliban seized control and hundreds of reporters fled the country or went into hiding.
ABC / AFP
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