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Female protesters gather in downtown Kabul after a brutal Taliban crackdown on demonstrations. The Taliban imposed further restrictions on female city government employees in Afghanistan’s capital on Thursday, barring many from returning to work next week in a sign that the group will continue to restrict women’s rights despite two decades of freedoms under the previous government.
Female protesters gather in downtown Kabul after a brutal Taliban crackdown on demonstrations. The Taliban imposed further restrictions on female city government employees in Afghanistan’s capital on Thursday, barring many from returning to work next week in a sign that the group will continue to restrict women’s rights despite two decades of freedoms under the previous government. (Susannah George/The Washington Post)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban imposed further restrictions on female city government employees in Afghanistan's capital on Thursday, barring many from returning to work next week in a sign that the group will continue to restrict women's rights despite two decades of freedoms under the previous government.

Neamatullah Barakzai, the Taliban's head of public awareness for the Kabul municipality, said many female city employees were told not to come to their jobs while officials prepare a new plan to allow women to work in government offices.

The order does not include women in the health and education sectors. The salaries of all female government employees will continue to be paid, Barakzai added.

The Taliban has long enforced an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, in territory the militant group controls, forcing women to wear head-to-toe coverings in public, restricting girls' access to education and requiring women to be accompanied by a male relative when outside the home. When the group controlled Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, such restrictions were imposed nationwide.

Since retaking all of Afghanistan, the Taliban has suggested the group could allow women more freedom within the framework of Islamic law.

During a visit to Russia on Wednesday, Taliban acting deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi said that across the country, women will also continue to work at police stations and in passport offices. "We are trying to provide working conditions for women in the sectors where they are needed, according to the Islamic law," he said.

"We assure the international community that there will be no discrimination against women, but, of course, within the frameworks we have," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in August.

Afghanistan is in the midst of an economic crisis, and the cash-strapped Taliban is wary of once again governing as an international pariah. Some countries that have donated billions of dollars in development and humanitarian aid are calling on the group to demonstrate progress in the areas of women's and civil rights before resuming the flow of aid money.

Despite the dangers, Afghan women have frequently taken to the streets of several major cities since the Taliban swept to power this summer, to protest restrictions on work and education. Some women have also taken part in countermarches in favor of Taliban rule.

Many Afghan women have demanded female inclusion in the new government. The Taliban formed an all-male caretaker cabinet in September.

Since returning to power nationwide, the Taliban has also moved to impose dress codes and restrict the movement of women in public places. It stated that women should wear "Islamic dress" - a term with no set definition.

Undeterred, a number of Afghan women last month began sharing images of themselves online dressed in bright and intricate traditional outfits, in what appeared to be a personal protest.

The Taliban has been open for years to women working in education and health care in some of the territory under their control. But the group's approach to women's rights has not been uniform. In some districts under Taliban control, women and girls are not allowed any education, while in others, women were allowed waivers to attend university.

Since taking control of Kabul, the group has said Afghan women can study in universities and postgraduate programs, but only in gender-segregated classrooms and in Islamic dress.

"Coeducation is in opposition to sharia law," Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the acting minister of higher education, told reporters, but he added that the Taliban intended to "start building on what existed today."

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