A spokesman for the Ministry of Virtue and Vice said the ban was introduced because people were ignoring gender segregation orders and women were not wearing the required headscarf or hijab. Women are also banned from parks.
According to Mohammed Akef Mohajer, a Taliban-appointed spokesperson for the Ministry of Virtue and Vice, the ban on women from using gyms and parks came into effect this week.
The group has spent the past 15 months “doing its best” to avoid closing parks and gyms for women, ordering separate days of the week for access for men and women or imposing gender segregation, he said.
“Unfortunately, orders were not followed and the rules were broken, and we had to close parks and gyms to women,” Mohajer said. “In most cases we have seen both men and women together in parks and unfortunately the hijab was not observed. So we had to come up with a different decision and have now ordered that all parks and gyms be closed to women.”
Taliban teams will begin monitoring institutions to make sure women are still using them, he said.
A female personal trainer told The Associated Press that women and men had not previously worked out or worked out together at the gym in Kabul where she works.
“The Taliban are lying,” she insisted, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “We trained separately.
On Thursday, she said two men claiming to be from the Ministry of Virtue and Vice entered her gym and forced all the women to leave.
“The women wanted to protest against the gyms (closure), but the Taliban came and arrested them,” she added. “Now we don’t know if they’re alive or dead.”
Taliban-appointed police chief spokesman Khalid Zadran said he had no immediate information about women protesting gym closures or arrests.
The UN Special Representative for Women in Afghanistan, Alison Davidian, condemned the ban. “This is yet another example of the Taliban’s continued and systematic removal of women from public life,” she said. “We call on the Taliban to restore all rights and freedoms for women and girls.”
Hardliners appear to hold sway in the Taliban-led government, which struggles to rule and remains internationally isolated. An economic downturn has driven millions more Afghans into poverty and hunger while the flow of foreign aid has slowed down to a trickle.
Kabul-based women’s rights activist Sodaba Nazhand said the ban on gyms, parks, work and school would leave many women wondering what was left for them in Afghanistan.
“It’s not only a limitation for women, but also for children,” she said. “Children go to a park with their mothers, now children are also prevented from going to the park. It’s so sad and unfair.”