December 2, 2021

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Women banned from acting, journalists forced to wear headscarves: Taliban issues new media guidelines

The new rules issued on Sunday come despite pledges from the hardline Islamist group that they would be more moderate in exercising power this time around

Women banned from acting, journalists forced to wear headscarves: Taliban issues new media guidelines

File photo of women holding placards during a protest in Kabul, calling for the international community to speak out in support of Afghans living under Taliban rule. AFP

Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisation, has raised concerns regarding the imposition of strict new media guidelines in Afghanistan by the Taliban that especially harm women. It said, “The Taliban’s new media regulations and threats against journalists reflect broader efforts to silence all criticism of Taliban rule. The disappearance of any space for dissent and worsening restrictions for women in the media and arts is devastating.”

As the Taliban further cracks down on women’s rights, here’s a look at these new guidelines and how their imposition takes the female freedom struggle backwards in Afghanistan.

New guidelines

The Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice on Sunday issued a series of “religious guidelines” on 21 November asking the country’s television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas that feature woman actors.

There were eight directives issued by the Taliban’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

They are as follows:
• All dramas, soap operas and entertainment shows featuring women are prohibited
• Women news presenters must now wear headscarves on screen
• Men on screen must wear ‘proper clothes’ (The guidelines do not specify which types of clothes are considered ‘proper’)
• The depiction of male bodies, including unclothed torsos, was also deemed inappropriate by the ministry
• Films in opposition to Islamic law and Afghan values should not be broadcast
• Foreign and domestic films that “promote foreign culture and values” should not be aired
• Entertainment and comedy programs “should not be based on insulting others,” nor “for the insult of human dignity and Islamic values”
• Don’t air films or programmes in which Prophet Mohammed or other revered figures are shown

A ministry spokesman Hakif Mohajir was quoted by the AFP as saying that these were not rules, but religious guidelines.

Another Taliban spokesperson while speaking to news agency EFE added that guidelines were not obligatory, but rather suggestions to be kept in mind during transmissions.

Curbing women’s rights

These are not the only rules that the Taliban has come out with in regards to women.

After their takeover of Afghanistan, after the pullout of United States’ troops, the Taliban has introduced several new diktats.

As far as education is concerned, the Taliban ordered that all Afghan universities, schools and colleges would be segregated by gender and a new dress code was also introduced for women — abaya and niqab that covers the hair, body, and most of the face. Moreover, the clothes must be black and women must also wear gloves to cover their hands.

Please read: From women can’t be ministers to no co-education, a look at the new Taliban’s perspective on women’s rights

This order triggered an online campaign by Afghan women in which they shared photos of themselves in colourful traditional dresses with hashtags like #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanCulture to emphasise the fact that traditional Afghan clothes are a far cry from the conservative dress code that the Taliban has mandated for women students.

Apart from this, the hardline group also banned Afghan women from participating in all sports.

Further, it asked women not to leave their homes without an escort.

These rules came even as the Taliban had promised a more liberal and moderate government this time around. However, their promises were exposed as naught when they announced their new government — which was all male.

Media crackdown

And it’s not just women who are suffering under the hardline Islamist group. It is reported that Taliban authorities have been threatening journalists in the country.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban has issued death threats against journalists who have criticised officials and have required journalists to submit all reports for approval before publication.

It has been reported that heavily armed Taliban officials have visited offices of journalists and warned them not to use the word “Taliban” in their reporting but to refer to the “Islamic Emirate” in all publications.

Al Jazeera in a report stated that over 150 media outlets had already closed due to fear or increased intimidation from the Taliban.

Despite vows that the media could function in the country, a journalist and cameraman for TOLO TV, the nation’s largest private broadcaster, were beaten and had their phones and cameras confiscated by armed Taliban.

While we don’t know what lies in the future for Afghanistan, one thing is certain: women’s presence in public life will be precarious while the Taliban rule.

With inputs from agencies

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