By Shehla Rahim
In a disheartening move that further highlights the Taliban’s oppressive approach to women’s rights, the group has banned women from visiting Band-e-Amir national park in Afghanistan. This new restriction adds to an alarming list of measures aimed at curtailing women’s access to public spaces, education, and work opportunities since the Taliban regained power in 2021.
Band-e-Amir, a breathtaking natural wonder in the central Bamiyan province, draws thousands of visitors annually with its mesmerizing sapphire-blue lakes and towering cliffs. However, this serene landscape has now become a stage for the Taliban’s ongoing campaign to suppress women’s freedoms. The ban, announced by the acting minister of vice and virtue, Mohammad Khalid Hanafi, was justified by the claim that women visiting the park were not adhering to the “proper” way of wearing the hijab. Hanafi’s statement reveals the deeply patriarchal and controlling mindset that underpins this move.
This ban, though seemingly isolated, is part of a larger pattern of discrimination against Afghan women. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has aptly characterized it as the latest addition to an ever-expanding list of restrictions placed on women since the Taliban’s resurgence. Schools, universities, workplaces, and public spaces have all been subject to these limitations. The ominous message conveyed is that women’s rightful presence in the public sphere is being systematically erased.
Heather Barr, a representative from HRW, contextualizes this ban as part of a concerning trajectory. She astutely notes that as the Taliban incrementally tightens their grip on women’s lives, the very act of leaving one’s home is becoming akin to imprisonment. The irony is stark—Band-e-Amir was a beacon of progress when, in 2013, the park introduced its first female park rangers, signifying positive change and gender inclusivity. Now, this same park has been co-opted to propagate regressive norms.
The international community has not turned a blind eye to this issue. Richard Bennett, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, has questioned the rationale behind this restriction, asking whether it genuinely aligns with Sharia law and Afghan culture. The Taliban has consistently asserted that its actions are in line with its interpretation of Islamic law and cultural values, but such claims are being increasingly debunked by the stark reality of these discriminatory measures.
Heather Barr’s sentiment encapsulates the sheer irrationality and cruelty of this ban. Struggling to find any reasonable justification, she contends that this move is purely an act of cruelty. What this ban effectively does is strip families of the opportunity to enjoy the park’s beauty together. Barr points out that Band-e-Amir was once a space where families could laugh, picnic, and make memories—yet the Taliban has turned it into another arena of division and isolation.
This latest decree paints a grim picture of the future for Afghan women. By pushing women out of public spaces, education, and work, the Taliban is relegating them to the margins of society. This is not just about access to a park; it’s about control, power, and enforcing a skewed worldview. The ban represents a deliberate attempt to erase women from the narrative of Afghanistan’s progress.
The international community’s response must be resolute and unified. The plight of Afghan women cannot be overlooked or overshadowed by political considerations. Organizations, governments, and individuals need to leverage their collective influence to press for change. Diplomatic efforts, sanctions, and targeted engagement can all play a role in putting pressure on the Taliban to reverse these regressive policies.
Furthermore, the voices of Afghan women themselves must not be stifled. Their resilience, agency, and determination in the face of such adversity deserve global recognition and support. Platforms for Afghan women to share their stories, aspirations, and challenges can foster solidarity and galvanize action.
In conclusion, the Taliban’s ban on women visiting Band-e-Amir national park is not an isolated incident, but rather a reflection of a broader campaign to curtail Afghan women’s rights. It symbolizes the erosion of progress and represents a dark reversal of the gains made by Afghan women over the years. To combat this regression, the international community must stand in solidarity with Afghan women, advocating for their rights and pressuring the Taliban to reconsider their oppressive policies. The fight for equality, dignity, and freedom for Afghan women is far from over, and it demands urgent and sustained attention.