BOB ABERNETHY: Sunday, March 8 is International Women's Day, and the spotlight this year is on women's human rights. At the U.S. Capitol this week, a briefing on the plight of women in Afghanistan, living under the Taliban Islamic militia. The Taliban now control most of that country. The congressional session was organized by California Senator Diane Feinstein.
DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Senator): The women of Afghanistan have seen their families destroyed by war, are now having their economic life and their fundamental human rights stripped away.
ABERNETHY: The Taliban are the latest rulers in Afghanistan, a nation torn by war for the last 18 years. What's different about the Taliban is that they are religious fundamentalists whose goal is to create what they call "a pure Islamic state." And their interpretation of Islam has led to severe restrictions on women's lives. Maureen Bunyan reports.
MAUREEN BUNYAN: For the young women in this family, life will never be the same. They once had professional lives; now they are even afraid to leave home.
NADIA: The Taliban should soften their policies so we can go back to our lives.
BUNYAN: Nadia was a lawyer. Now she is among the thousands of women in Kabul forced to stop working since the Taliban began imposing their fundamentalist religion. They want a pure Islamic society in which men and women are forbidden to touch or even be in the same room unless they are related.
Unidentified Woman: I wanted my children to be educated, to help their society, their people, and their family. I don't want them to be illiterate and stay at home.
JAN GOODWIN (Author): Education for women has been banned; employment for women has been banned.
BUNYAN: Jan Goodwin, an author who recently visited Kabul, says women there have borne the brunt of the Taliban's edicts.
Ms. GOODWIN: Any kind of form of pleasure has been banned, make-up for women has been banned, nail varnish has been banned, they may not cut their hair short, they may not go barefooted, they may not wear white socks.
BUNYAN: When Taliban fighters swept into the capital of Kabul, they enforced their ultra-orthodox views with a vengeance. They burned books and films and banned music in a campaign to wipe out what they see as western decadence. It's part religious zeal and part backlash against years of Soviet occupation and foreign-backed war. Many of the Taliban fighters were young war orphans from the Afghan countryside, who learned their Islam at fundamentalist religious schools in Pakistan. Now they're in charge, out on the streets, interpreting Islam at the point of a gun.
SULAYMAN NYANG (Professor, Howard University): They want to rearrange everyone's society in their own image. And this is where most of us see them as a return to medieval understanding of Islam.
BUNYAN: Women can no longer leave home unless they wear traditional dress, a head-to-toe covering called the chadori.
SIMA WALLI (Refugee Women in Development): Many women have been beaten violently on the streets. Many women have been imprisoned just for -- simply for not wearing the chadori.
BUNYAN: It's here, at this office called the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Preservation of Virtue, that Taliban edicts are issued, all in the name of Islam, as their U.S. representative explains.
ABDUL HAKEN MUJAHID (Taliban Government Official): It is clearly written in the Qur'an, "These women, they will not show their beauty from those people that are not close to her."