Possible Return of Taliban’s Religious Police Threatens Afghan Women’s Rights

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his cabinet have approved the reestablishment of the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The Afghan Parliament will consider the proposal when it reconvenes later this summer. Initiated by the Taliban, the Vice and Virtue Department sent religious police to patrol the streets where they brutally punished Afghan citizens for disobeying the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law.

Women were particularly affected by the religious police as they were publicly beaten for such arbitrary offenses as wearing white shoes, showing their wrists or ankles, or going outside their home without a male relative. Women were also prevented from attending school, working, or being seen by a male physician, while women doctors and nurses were banned from working.

It is not clear what powers the proposed Vice and Virtue Department would have. Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission told The Independent, “It will remind people of the Taliban. We are worried that there are no clear terms of reference for this body.” The Minister for Haj and Religious Affairs, Nematullah Shahrani denied that the Department would have police powers, instead claiming that it’s duty would be to “tell people what is allowable and what is forbidden in IslamÉthrough radio, television and special gatherings,” reports The Independent.

This proposal comes at an especially critical time for Afghan women and girls as the burning and bombing of girls’ schools has reached crisis proportions. Ahmed Rashid, a well known author and expert on the Taliban recently wrote in the Washington Post that “…every single day somewhere in Afghanistan a girls’ school is burned down or a female teacher killed by the Taliban.” Many districts have closed all of their schools according to a recent Human Rights Watch Report

“Afghan women and girls face increasing insecurity, and it’s more important for the government to address how to improve their access to public life rather than limit it further,” said Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch, “Reinstatement of this controversial department risks moving the discussion away from the vital security and human rights problems now engulfing the country.”


The Independent 7/17/06; Human Rights Watch Press Release 7/18/06; Feminist Daily News Wire 7/12/06

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