The Taliban appear to have closed the Ministry of Women's Affairs and replaced it with an administration that had previously applied strict religious beliefs.

On Friday, the sign was removed in the ministry, and a sign was placed for the Ministry of Virtue and Vice instead.

Social media videos showed female employees outside offices, urging the Taliban to allow them to return to work.

During Taliban rule in the 1990s, the ministry imposed strict Islamic rules and harsh restrictions on women.

In the past 20 years, Afghan women have struggled to obtain and gain a number of basic rights, but there are now fears that the new interim government of the all-male Taliban has reversed progress.

The BBC's chief international correspondent Les Duceh, in Kabul, says that while Taliban leaders have made promises that they understand Afghanistan has changed - and that they have - there seems to be a growing mismatch between promises and policies.

Human rights groups had earlier criticized virtue and the deputy ministry for silencing dissent, violently restricting citizens -- especially women and girls -- and spreading fear and mistrust in all communities.

But Taliban members say the institution is important: "The main purpose is to serve Islam. Therefore, it is mandatory to have a deputy ministry and virtue," a Taliban member, Mohammad Yusuf, told the New York Post.

What is the Ministry of Virtue and Vice doing?

Its full name, according to the new sign on the Kabul complex, is the Ministry of Virtue Deployment and Prevention of Deputy.

It already existed before the Taliban first came to power, but expanded during its rule between 1996 and 2001.

The ministry was responsible for deploying the so-called morality police on the streets to implement the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law known as Sharia.

She became known for beating women who were not dressed decently or going out without a male guardian. Girls were not allowed to attend after primary school - a procedure reportedly reintroduced by the group.

Entertainment such as music and dance was banned, and activities such as playing chess or flying a kite were banned. Prayer times were strictly enforced, men made beards grow, and Western-style haircuts were frowned upon.

Anyone found to have violated the rules is cruelly punished - flogging, beatings, amputations and public executions are not uncommon.

Two Taliban members in Kabul told The Washington Post that they did not expect the Taliban to use force in the same way as the group in the past and that the perpetrators would not be police or soldiers.

The department was dissolved after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, although then-President Hamid Karzai re-established a similar but less powerful administration in 2006 after pressure from conservatives.

At the time, Human Rights Watch described the ministry as "a notorious symbol of arbitrary violations."

"What should Afghan women do?"

Female employees working in the Ministry of Women's Affairs compound said they had been trying to return to work for weeks, but had been prevented from entering the building.

"For women, there will be nothing anymore," said one worker. "We all have responsibilities to our families... We are educated and we don't want to confine ourselves to the house."

Taliban officials said that under their new government, women would be allowed to study and work in accordance with the group's interpretation of Islamic law.

The women were asked to stay at home until the security situation improved, and Taliban fighters beat women who were protesting against the all-male interim government.

"When there is no ministry, what should Afghan women do? Is their conscience Taliban acceptable if Afghan women beg on the roads?" said another woman outside the compound.


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