Doctors ordered not to treat women without their legal Mahrams

AFP - KABUL, June 25, 1998

Doctors working in Taliban-held Afghanistan were ordered Thursday to deny treatment to women not accompanied by a close male relative, state-run Radio Shariat announced.

"The department of regulation and inspection of the public health ministry announces to all doctors and medical personnel not to examine and treat women without their legal Mahram present," Radio Shariat said.

The ruling is the latest in a long series of tough measures aimed at reforming public health structures, in which the puritanical Moslem militia has attempted to minimize contact between men and women.

It is also likely to pose serious problems for the Afghan capital's estimated 30,000 widows, many of whom have no male relatives to accompany them.

All public hospitals have already been tightly segregated and are subject to regular inspections by religious police squads from the ministry for the fostering of virtue and prevention of vice.

It also comes amid a crisis of foreign-aid medical projects in the Afghan capital, many of which have been suspended following militia threats to locally recruited female staff.

The militia anti-vice ministry last month banned women from working for foreign aid groups unless they can show identity cards signed by the militia. So far no cards have been issued.

Afghan female staff have also been barred from working outside approved health structures, shutting down a number of home-visit midwife and widow's health schemes.

The ruling is a further challenge to a memorandum of understanding between the United Nations and the Taliban, signed last month amid a storm of criticism in which the UN was accused of ignoring universal principles of gender rights.

The UN took the controversial step of recognizing that female access to health in the Taliban-held two thirds of Afghanistan will need to be gradual.

The world body also recognized that even a gradual increase in female access to health would be "challenging" due to "economic difficulties and cultural traditions.

h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g