The Taliban say security forces will stop women from visiting Afghan national park

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban will use security forces to stop women from visiting one of Afghanistan’s most popular national parks, according to information shared by a spokesman for the Vice and Virtue Ministry.

The ministry alleges that women have not been observing the proper way to wear the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, when going to Band-e-Amir in the central Bamiyan province.

This comes a week after the minister, Mohammad Khalid Hanafi, visited the province and told officials and religious clerics that women haven’t been adhering to the correct way of wearing the hijab, asking security personnel to stop women from visiting the tourist hotspot.

“Going sightseeing is not a must for women,” Hanafi said at the time.

Ministry spokesman Molvi Mohammad Sadiq Akif shared a report of Hanafi’s remarks late Saturday night, including the use of security forces, clerics and elders to carry out Hanafi's order. A recording of the minister's speech in Bamiyan, aligning with Akif’s report, was shared on social media.

Akif was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

“Not content with depriving girls and women of education, employment, and free movement, the Taliban also want to take from them parks and sport and now even nature, as we see from this latest ban on women visiting Band-e-Amir,” said Heather Barr, the associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch in an emailed statement. “Step by step the walls are closing in on women as every home becomes a prison.”

Last, November, the Taliban-led government barred women from using public spaces, including parks, saying that they were not wearing the hijab correctly or following gender segregation rules.

Since taking over the country on August 15, 2021 after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, they have imposed several restrictions targeting Afghan girls and women, including stopping girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade, and prohibiting Afghan women from jobs at local and non-governmental organizations while cracking down on media.

These harsh measures triggered a fierce international outrage, including from Muslim-majority countries.

Band-e-Amir is a major tourist attraction in Bamiyan. It became the country’s first national park in 2009 and pulls in thousands of visitors every year.

It is a major source of income for locals and their sightseeing, restaurant, hotel and handicraft businesses.