Band-e-Amir National Park in Afghanistan was known for having employed the country’s first female park rangers. Now women are not even allowed to visit the country, let alone work there, as the Taliban tighten their repressive rule over the country.
Afghan Minister for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Mohammad Khalid Hanafi announced on Saturday that women will no longer be allowed to visit the popular park in the central Bamiyan province, one of the poorest and least developed regions in the country.
Established in 2019 by the local Afghan government in collaboration with several international organizations including USAID and the United Nations Development Program, the park was considered a peaceful oasis of deep blue lakes surrounded by mountains.
Heather Barr, deputy director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Monday that the ban shows how “the walls are closing in on women in Afghanistan.”
“Not content with depriving girls and women of education, jobs and freedom of movement, the Taliban also want to take away from them parks, sports and now even nature, as we see with this recent ban on women visiting Band-e-Amir. ” She said.
“Step by step the walls are closing on women as every home becomes a prison.”
The Taliban cast a long and notorious shadow over Bamiyan province. Home to a sizeable Shia Muslim minority, it was the scene of horrific massacres during the civil war of the 1990s and the subsequent rise of the Taliban.
It was also once the center of a thriving Buddhist civilization in the 4th and 5th centuries. But in March 2001, the Taliban famously destroyed two giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan that had stood undisturbed for more than 1,500 years, claiming they were idols that violated Islam.
Since the Taliban retook control of the country in August 2021 amid the chaotic and contentious US withdrawal, they have rolled back decades of human rights gains. And with most work and study bans in place, women are largely confined to their homes.
In Afghanistan, “there is no such thing as women’s freedom anymore,” Mahbouba Seraj, an Afghan women’s rights activist and nominee for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize, said earlier this month.
“The women of Afghanistan are slowly being erased from society, from life, from everything – from their opinions, their voices, what they think, where they are,” she added.
This latest restriction comes nearly a month after women in Afghanistan were banned from beauty salons, further restricting their freedom, which has also been a severe economic hit to families who depended on them for their income.
According to a UN report released in June, women are banned from working in most areas outside the home and are banned from visiting public baths, parks and gyms. They are required to wear a loose-fitting black garment that covers their face and are not allowed to leave the home without reason, even then without a male guardian.
The report was prepared after a week-long visit to Afghanistan by Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, and Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, who led a contingent of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls.
Restrictions imposed outside the home and economic hardship have led to “significant tensions” within homes and a rise in domestic violence, and there is “remarkable evidence” of a “significant increase” in forced marriage among girls, the report said.