KABUL, Afghanistan: The Taliban government has ordered all Afghan women to wear head-to-toe clothing in public, confirming the worst fears of rights activists and potentially further complicating the Taliban's dealings with the international community.
The decree stipulates that women should leave their homes only when necessary, and male relatives face punishment for dress code violations committed by relatives.
The move was the latest in a series of controversial edicts issued by the Taliban leadership. Last month, the Taliban forbade women to travel alone.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has stressed that it was deeply concerned that the clothing directive would be enforced, adding that it would seek clarification from the Taliban.
"This decision contradicts numerous assurances regarding respect for and protection of all Afghans' human rights, including those of women and girls, that had been provided to the international community by Taliban representatives during discussions and negotiations over the past decade," the U.N. mission said in a statement.
The decree, which calls for women to wear the head-to-toe burqa and only show their eyes, evoked similar restrictions on women during the Taliban's previous rule between 1996 and 2001.
"We want our sisters to live with dignity and safety," said Khalid Hanafi, acting minister for the Taliban's vice and virtue ministry.
"For all dignified Afghan women, wearing Hijab is necessary and the best Hijab is the chadori, which is part of our tradition and is respectful," stated Shir Mohammad, an official from the vice and virtue ministry.
Meanwhile, Heather Barr, Senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, urged the international community to put pressure on the Taliban.
On Twitter, she wrote, "It is far past time for a serious and strategic response to the Taliban's escalating assault on women's rights."
The White House National Security Council condemned the Taliban's Saturday decree and urged them to reverse it.
"We are discussing this with other countries and partners. The legitimacy and support that the Taliban seeks from the international community depends entirely on their conduct, specifically their ability to back stated commitments with actions," it said in a statement.
Silvia Redigolo, spokeswoman from Pangea, an Italian non-governmental organization that has assisted women for years in Afghanistan, said of the women, "In the last 20 years, they have had the awareness of human rights, and in the span of a few months have lost them."
In Kabul, private schools and universities have operated uninterrupted.