The Taliban has banned marriages without the consent of women in Afghanistan, a move apparently meant to address criteria the international community considers a precondition to recognizing their government and restoring aid to the war-torn country.
The move was announced on Friday by the reclusive Taliban chief, Hibatullah Akhunzada, a cleric chosen as the group’s supreme leader who is believed to be in the southern city of Kandahar, reports Reuters.
It comes as poverty is surging in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August amid the withdrawal of US and NATO troops. Since then, foreign governments have halted funds that had been a mainstay of the economy.
“Both (women and men) should be equal,” said the decree, adding that “no one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure.”
Women’s rights improved markedly over the past two decades of international presence in Afghanistan, but are seen as under threat with the return of the Taliban, who during their earlier rule in the 1990s virtually cloistered women, banned them from public life and access to education.
Women in Afghanistan for decades were treated as property — as an exchange token for blood money or ending disputes or tribal feuds. The Taliban now state they are against the practice. They also said a widow will now be allowed to re-marry 17 weeks after her husband’s death, choosing her new husband freely.
Longstanding tribal traditions have held it customary for a widow to marry one of her husband’s brothers or relatives in the event of his death.
The Taliban leadership says it has ordered Afghan courts to treat women fairly, especially widows seeking inheritance as next of kin. The group also says it has asked government ministers to spread awareness of women’s rights across the population.
Friday’s announcement comes as thousands of girls from grades seven to 12 are still not allowed to attend school, and a majority of women have been banned from returning to their jobs since the Taliban takeover.