KABUL, Afghanistan — Gyms and public baths are now also off-limits to Afghan women, the Taliban confirmed on Sunday, days after banning them from parks and fairs.
Women have been increasingly pushed out of public life since the Taliban returned last year despite hardline Islamists promising a softer version of the hardline rule that characterized their first stint in power that ended in 2001.
Most female government workers have lost their jobs – or are paid a pittance to stay home – while women are barred from traveling without a male relative and must cover themselves with a burqa or a hijab when not at home.
Schools for teenage girls have also been closed across most of the country since the Taliban returned in August 2021.
“The gyms are closed to women because their coaches were men and some of them were mixed gyms,” Mohammad Akif Sadeq Mohajir, spokesman for the ministry of vice prevention, told AFP. and the Promotion of Virtue.
He added that “hammams” – traditional public baths that have always been segregated by gender – were now also banned.
“Right now every house has a bathroom, so it won’t be a problem for women,” he said.
Sana, 23, a university student, gave a different explanation.
“The main reason for closing parks, gymnasiums and hammams is the Taliban’s anti-women ideology,” she told AFP.
“The Afghanistan of today has become a dungeon for women. They want to send women into a black hole.
“Today, with the closure of these establishments, women are completely imprisoned within the four walls of a house.”
A video clip circulating on social media – which could not immediately be verified – showed a group of women with their backs to the camera lamenting the ban on gyms.
“It’s a women-only gym – the teachers and coaches are all women,” a voice said, breaking with emotion.
“You can’t deny us everything. Are we entitled to nothing at all?
Activists said the increasing restrictions on women were an attempt to prevent them from coming together to organize opposition to the Taliban rule.
Small groups of women have staged frequent flash protests in Kabul and other major cities, risking the wrath of Taliban officials who have beaten and detained them.
This month, the United Nations expressed concern after the Taliban broke up a press conference in the capital, subjecting female attendees to body searches and detaining the event organizer and several others.
“I have been to parks and hammams several times, it has always brought me joy,” said 19-year-old Fatima.
“I never thought that my presence in hammams or gyms could be a problem for anyone.”