Women presenters on Afghanistan’s leading television channels aired on Saturday without covering their faces, challenging the Taliban’s order to hide their appearance to conform to the group’s strict Islam.
Since returning to power last year, the Taliban have imposed a number of restrictions on civil society, many of which have focused on curbing the rights of women and girls.
Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzad ordered women to be completely covered in public, including their faces, ideally a traditional burqa.
The dreaded Ministry of Promoting Virtue and Preventing Defects has ordered women TV presenters to follow their example by Saturday. Previously, they only had to wear a handkerchief.
But broadcasters TOLOnews, Shamshad TV and 1TV went live on Saturday, showing the faces of the presenters.
“Our female colleagues are concerned that if they close their faces, the next thing they will be told is to stop working,” said Abid Ehsas, head of Shamshad TV’s information department.
“This is the reason why they have not followed the order so far,” he told AFP, adding that the channel had asked for further discussions with the Taliban on the issue.
Such Taliban orders forced many journalists to leave Afghanistan after brutal Islamists returned to power, the presenter said.
“Their latest order has broken the hearts of women leaders, and many now think they have no future in this country,” she said, asking not to be named.
“I am thinking of leaving the country. Such decrees will force many specialists to leave.”
Mohammad Sadeq Akif Mahajir, a spokesman for the deputy ministry, said the leaders were violating a Taliban directive.
“If they don’t, we’ll talk to the managers and guardians of the presenters,” he told AFP.
“Those who live under a certain system and government must obey the laws and orders of that system, so they must follow the order,” he said.
The Taliban have demanded the dismissal of female employees if they do not comply with the new dress code.
Men who work in government are also at risk of being fired if their wives or daughters do not comply.
Mahajir said media managers and male guardians of the audacious presenters would also be held accountable for non-compliance.
During the two decades of U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan, women and girls have made little progress in a deeply patriarchal nation.
Shortly after they seized power, the Taliban promised a softer version of the brutal Islamist rule that characterized their first stay in power from 1996 to 2001.
However, after the seizure, women were banned from traveling alone and teenage girls from secondary schools.
20 years after the Taliban were ousted in 2001, many women in conservative rural areas continued to wear the burqa.
But most Afghan women, including TV presenters, chose the headscarf.
TV channels have already stopped showing dramas and soap operas featuring women on orders from the Taliban authorities.