Taliban condemned for banning women from gyms, parks and funfairs in fresh crackdown on their rights

A Taliban fighter stands guard in an amusement park, in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)
A Taliban fighter stands guard in an amusement park, in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)

The Taliban have been condemned by the United Nations for banning Afghan women from public spaces like gyms, parks and funfairs.

The new rules to prevent the mixing of men and women come into play this week leaving funfairs and play areas in Kabul deserted with “bored and tiredmothers no longer allowed to accompany their children.

Taliban soldiers armed with assault rifles patrol amusement parks to prevent women from entering.

An empty amusement ride at the Habibullah Zazai Park on the outskirts of Kabul (AFP via Getty Images)
An empty amusement ride at the Habibullah Zazai Park on the outskirts of Kabul (AFP via Getty Images)

The UN special representative in Afghanistan for women, Alison Davidian, condemned the ban.

“This is yet another example of the Taliban’s continued and systematic erasure of women from public life,” she said. “We call on the Taliban to reinstate all rights and freedoms for women and girls.”

Banned: Afghan women stand outside an amusement park (AP)
Banned: Afghan women stand outside an amusement park (AP)

A spokesman from the Ministry of Virtue and Vice said the ban was being introduced because people were ignoring gender segregation orders and that women were not wearing the required headscarf, or hijab.

The group has “tried its best” over the past 15 months to avoid closing parks and gyms for women, ordering separate days of the week for male and female access or imposing gender segregation, he said.

“But, unfortunately, the orders were not obeyed and the rules were violated, and we had to close parks and gyms for women,” said Mohajer. “In most cases, we have seen both men and women together in parks and, unfortunately, the hijab was not observed. So we had to come up with another decision and for now we ordered all parks and gyms to be closed for women.”

“There are no schools, no work... we should at least have a place to have fun,” said one mother, who asked to be identified only as Wahida, as she watched her children play in a park through the window of an adjoining restaurant.

“We are just bored and fed up with being at home all day, our minds are tired,” she told AFP.

The Taliban overran the country last year, seizing power in August 2021. They have banned girls from middle school and high school, despite initial promises to the contrary, restricted women from most fields of employment, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public.

Female Afghan Taekwondo team members practice during a training session in Kabul - in March (AP)
Female Afghan Taekwondo team members practice during a training session in Kabul - in March (AP)

A female personal trainer told The Associated Press that women and men were not exercising or training together before at the Kabul gym where she works.

“The Taliban are lying,” she insisted, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. “We were training separately.”

On Thursday, she said two men claiming to be from the Ministry of Virtue and Vice entered her gym and made all the women leave.

“The women wanted to protest about the gyms (closing) but the Taliban came and arrested them,” she added. “Now we don’t know if they’re alive or dead.”

Kabul-based women’s rights activist Sodaba Nazhand said the bans on gyms, parks, work, and school would leave many women wondering what was left for them in Afghanistan.

“It is not just a restriction for women, but also for children,” she said. “Children go to a park with their mothers, now children are also prevented from going to the park. It’s so sad and unfair.”

The British Government said of the 15,000 people evacuated since the Taliban seized Kabul in August last year, 5,000 of those were British nationals and their families.

More than 8,000 Afghans who helped the British effort as interpreters or in other roles, or who are otherwise vulnerable to persecution by the regime, were also able to flee to safety with their families. But not all could be saved.

Then foreign secretary Dominic Raab insisted despite the evacuation of British soldiers the UK could still hold the Taliban to account to “protect the most essential human rights including respecting the rights of women”.