By Hira Humayun and Helen Regan, CNN
Female employees in the Kabul city government have been told to stay home, and only women whose jobs cannot be done by men are allowed to come to work — the latest restrictions imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The order, announced by Kabul’s acting Mayor Hamdullah Nohmani on Sunday, effectively means women are now barred from government work in the Afghan capital. One of the only jobs women can do for the Kabul government is clean female bathrooms, according to the announcement.
The order leaves hundreds of women out of work. Nohmani said there are 2,930 people working for the municipality — 27% of whom are women.
Fear is mounting for women and girls in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the country last month. Despite repeated assurances to respect women’s rights, the order on female government employees is the latest sign the freedoms of the last 20 years are coming to an end.
Since the takeover, women have been ordered to leave their workplaces in some areas, restrictions on girls’ and women’s education have been introduced, and women have been completely excluded from the country’s hardline new government.
When the Taliban were last in power between 1996 and 2001, the militant group banned women and girls from education and work, stopped them from leaving the home unaccompanied, and forced them to cover their entire bodies.
“Initially we allowed all of them to be present at their duties on time, but then the Islamic Emirate decided it was necessary that for some time their work must stop,” Nohmani said, using the official name for the Taliban. “Then we only allowed those females whom we needed, I mean for jobs which males couldn’t do, or which is not a man’s job … For example, there are public female toilets in bazaars.”
He added their work will now be done by men, and “until the situation comes to a normal state, we have asked them to stay at home.”
His remarks come the same day women’s rights activists demanded education for girls and women’s participation in government in protests on Sunday.
The women marched outside a building in Kabul that once hosted the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs. That building is now home to the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice under the Taliban, according to a new sign posted outside and seen by a CNN team on the ground on Friday.
The Sunday march was organized by the Movement for Change Party, a women’s civil society movement led by Fawzia Koofi, a former Afghan lawmaker, peace negotiator and women rights activist.
“The Taliban during and before the negotiations said in their statements that women have right to work and study according to Islamic law, but today what is going on in Afghanistan is against the promises Taliban made and against Islamic values,” Koofi said via web conference from outside Afghanistan. “How you are banning a generation from reading and writing, it is not a social matter that group of humans are banned from study, life and freedom.”
The protest came after the Taliban announced further restrictions on women and girls. A week ago, the Afghan Finance Ministry, now under Taliban control, issued a notice ordering its female employees not to return to work “until suitable work environment is arranged.”
And on Friday, the Ministry of Education ordered male secondary school students and teachers to report to their schools on Saturday. The announcement did not mention female students, sowing fears that girls would once again be excluded from secondary education.
But the Taliban denied claims Afghan women would be banned from secondary schools, claiming they needed to set up a “secure transportation system” for female students before allowing them back into classrooms.
Speaking to CNN on Saturday, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said women will be allowed to study. “There are certain rules during their class time that must be obeyed that they could be safe and sound,” he said.
Mujahid reiterated previous statements from the Taliban saying, “We are committed on women’s rights” according to the group’s interpretation of Sharia law.
However, the activist Koofi said the Taliban’s actions so far indicate it “still does not believe in the rights of women” and pleaded with the international community and UN to pressure the Taliban to back track from its hardline decision.
“Today we hear that girls are not allowed to get education, the offices’ doors are shut in their face, there are no woman representative in the political leadership,” she said. “They should know that only by the respect and participation of women, they can live in peace and in this world.”
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CNN’s Kareem Khadder in Jerusalem and Ingrid Formanek in Kabul contributed. Additional reporting from CNN’s Nic Robertson, Taylor Barnes and Ivana Kottasová.