The supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, said on Sunday that the government has taken “necessary steps” for “the betterment of women” in Afghanistan, as the United Nations sounds alarms about women’s rights in the country.

In a message ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday, Akhundzada said women’s “Shariah rights have been protected” and that steps have been taken to protect them from forced marriages and other oppressions.

“Necessary steps have been taken for the betterment of women as half of society in order to provide them with a comfortable and prosperous life according to the Islamic Shariah,” the message said.

“The status of women as a free and dignified human being has been restored and all institutions have been obliged to help women in securing marriage, inheritance and other rights.”

The Taliban, since taking over amid the U.S. withdrawal in 2021, has banned women and girls from education past the sixth grade, mandated women wear head-to-toe coverings in public and largely prohibited them from traveling otuside their homes, among other restrictions on their freedoms.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said earlier this year that the new Taliban leaders have “demonstrated an almost singular focus on imposing rules that leave most women and girls effectively trapped in their homes” and that Afghanistan “remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women’s rights.”

“Over the past 22 months, every aspect of women’s and girls’ lives has been restricted. They are discriminated against in every way,” Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Ashif said this month.

The U.N. mission told the Taliban rulers last week that international recognition as the country’s legitimate government is “nearly impossible” unless they lift severe restrictions on women and girls’ education and employment.

The Associated Press contributed. 

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