In a further tightening of their control over Afghanistan, the Taliban government has issued a ban on women visiting the scenic Band-e-Amir National Park, located in the central Bamiyan province. This move marks another step in the erasure of women’s rights and freedoms since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021.
Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan’s first national park established in 2009, was known for its breathtaking beauty, featuring a series of naturally formed lakes surrounded by mountains. The park had even employed the country’s first-ever female park rangers, symbolizing a hopeful shift towards gender equality. However, recent developments have reversed this progress.
Afghanistan’s Acting Minister of Virtue and Vice, Mohammad Khaled Hanafi, justified the ban by claiming that women had not been adhering to hijab (Islamic dress code) rules while inside the park. He called on religious clerics and security agencies to enforce the ban until a solution could be reached. Critics argue that this decision significantly limits women’s access to public spaces and underscores the Taliban’s ongoing efforts to curtail women’s rights.
The ban coincided with Women’s Equality Day, a poignant reminder of the stark regression in gender equality within Afghanistan. The move has faced international condemnation, with human rights organizations and activists highlighting the growing restrictions imposed on Afghan women. Fereshta Abbasi of Human Rights Watch expressed her outrage, stating that the ban exhibited a “total disrespect to the women of Afghanistan.”
Band-e-Amir’s significance as a popular tourist attraction and a place for families to enjoy nature is undeniable. UNESCO recognizes the park for its unique geological formations, natural beauty, and cultural importance. With women now banned from visiting, many families will be denied the opportunity to experience this natural wonder together.
This ban is just the latest addition to the series of restrictions imposed on Afghan women since the Taliban regained control. Women have been barred from various activities and spaces, including schools, universities, beauty salons, and now national parks. The international community has raised concerns about the impact of these restrictions on women’s well-being and their rights to education, employment, and personal freedom.
As Afghanistan grapples with the implications of these regressive policies, the world watches closely, and activists like former MP Mariam Solaimankhil hold onto hope for a brighter future. Amidst the turmoil, she shared a poem on social media, expressing confidence in a better tomorrow: “We’ll return, I’m sure of it.” However, with each new restriction, the challenges faced by Afghan women seem to grow, raising urgent questions about the nature of governance, human rights, and gender equality in the country.
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