They eventually submitted to the Taliban’s order to conceal their appearance. The presenters of major Afghan television channels appeared on Sunday, May 22, on the air with their faces covered, complying with an order from the Taliban a day after having defied it.

Since returning to power last year, the Taliban have imposed a series of restrictions on civil society, much of it aimed at subjugating women to their austere understanding of Islam. Earlier this month, the Taliban’s supreme leader issued an order that women must cover themselves fully in public, including the face, ideally with the burqa, a full-face veil with a fabric grid at eye level. Previously, only a scarf covering the hair was enough.

Afghanistan’s dreaded Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice had ordered female TV presenters to comply by Saturday. The female journalists initially chose not to comply with this order, going on the air live without concealing their faces.

Taliban pressure

Before turning around. On Sunday, female presenters wore full veils, leaving only their eyes and foreheads visible, to present the news on TOLOnews, Ariana Television, Shamshad TV and 1TV. Sonia Niazi, a TOLOnews presenter, explained:

We resisted and were against wearing [full veil]. But TOLOnews was pressured, [the Taliban] said that any presenter who appeared on the screen without covering her face should be given another job.

TOLOnews director Khpalwak Sapai explained that the channel was “forced” to enforce the order on its staff:

We were told: you have to. You have to. There is no other solution. I was called on the phone yesterday and told in strict terms to do this. So it is not by choice that we do it, but constrained and forced.

Mohammad Sadeq Akif Mohajir, spokesperson for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, said authorities had no intention of forcing female presenters out of their jobs. “We are happy that the channels have correctly exercised their responsibility,” he commented to Agence France-Presse.

Full veil in public

The Taliban have ordered that women working in government be fired if they fail to adhere to the new dress code. Male employees also risk being suspended if their wives or daughters do not comply.

The Taliban regained power in August 2021 announcing a more flexible regime than during their first rigorous reign. But they have in recent months begun to repress opposition and erode freedoms, especially for women in education, work and daily life.

They started by requiring that women wear at least a hijab, a scarf covering the head but revealing the face. Then, at the beginning of May, they imposed on them the wearing in public of a full veil, preferably the burqa, already compulsory when they were in power from 1996 to 2001.

In the twenty years since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, many conservative rural women continued to wear the burqa. But most Afghan women, including TV presenters, had opted for the headscarf. Television channels have already stopped serials and soap operas featuring women, on orders from the Taliban.