Facing a shortage of disposable masks and a surge in Covid-19 cases, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health has decreed today that women across the country have to wear three burqas, one on top of the other, when outside their residence.

The Afghan Health Minister, Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz, announced a new set of restrictive measures for the population to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Among these measures, the government has imposed on Afghan women the obligation to wear a minimum of three layers of burqas when in public, announcing fines of up to 20,000 Afghanis (262 US dollars) and 50 lashes for any violations.

Dr. Feroz says this measure is meant to limit the propagation of the disease and protect women.

“We know that women are by definition a vulnerable population so we are trying to protect them from harm.”

Dr. Feroz explained that one burqa is clearly insufficient to protect its wearer, so that is why he decided to impose a minimum of three.

“I understand that it might be harder to breathe or see under so much fabric, but if you can’t breathe, you can’t catch an airborne virus. It’s simple science.”

Disposable masks have been distributed with scarcity in Afghanistan, as the country is already facing shortages of several types of medical equipment.

Several Women’s Rights organizations have denounced the measure as misogynistic.

In a brief press statement, the International Council of Women (ICW) criticized the Afghan government for “putting the responsibility of stopping the pandemic on Afghan women’s shoulders”.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (often called UN Women), Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, also denounced the measure.

In a brief communiqué, the head of UN Women said her organization would remain extremely vigilant as “some governments are using the pandemic to push their own political agendas through their restrictive measures.”

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