Afghan women have started an online campaign to protest tough new rules announced by the Taliban for female students. Using hashtags like #DoNotTouchMyClothes (#Don’tSmallMyClothes) #AfghanistanCulture (#Afghanistan Culture), many shared images of their colorful traditional dresses.
BBC journalist Sodaba Haidare spoke to women behind the campaign against the new dress code announced by the Islamic fundamentalist group.
If you Google “traditional Afghan clothing” you’ll see images of colorful traditional dresses. Each one is unique, with handmade embroidery, small mirrors placed carefully close to the chest, long lengths, which gain movement during Attan, the Afghan national dance.
Some women wear embroidered hats, others wear a hair bow, depending on which region of Afghanistan they come from.
A scaled-down version of similar dresses has been worn every day by women going to college or their workplace for the past 20 years, a period in which the Taliban has been out of power thanks to the presence of a US-led military coalition. Sometimes pants were replaced by jeans and scarves were placed over the head instead of appearing over the shoulders.
But the photos of women in long, fully veiled black abayas, covering their faces and hands, and gathering in Kabul over the weekend to support the “Taleban order” for a new dress code proved a striking contrast.
In a video, participants at a pro-Taleban rally in the capital were seen saying that Afghan women wearing makeup and modern clothing “do not represent the Afghan Muslim woman” and that they “do not want the rights of women who are foreigners and at odds with the Sharia”, reference to the strict version of Islamic law supported by the Taliban.
‘True face of our culture’
Afghan women around the world quickly responded to the pro-Taleban protest.
Joining a social media campaign started by Bahar Jalali, a former professor of history at American University in Afghanistan, they used hashtags like #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture to rescue and promote their traditional clothing.
Jalali told the BBC that he started the campaign because “one of the biggest concerns is that Afghanistan’s identity and sovereignty is under attack”.
Posting a photo of her on Twitter in a green Afghan dress, Jalali asked other Afghan women to share their clothes to show “the real face of Afghanistan”.
“I wanted to inform the world that the costumes seen in the media (referring to those worn by women at the pro-Taleban rally) are not our culture, not our identity,” said Jalali.
Many were surprised by the way women dressed at the pro-Taleban rally; face and hand coverings are seen as an alien concept to many Afghans who are used to colorful and kaleidoscopic traditional dresses.
Each region of Afghanistan has its own traditional clothing, but despite the diversity they all share a common theme: lots of colors, mirrors and embroidery. And these women share the same thought: your clothes are your identity.
“This is our authentic Afghan dress. Afghan women wear colorful and modest costumes. The black burqa was never part of Afghan culture,” wrote Spozhmay Maseed, a US-based human rights activist, on Twitter.
“For centuries we were an Islamic country and our grandmothers dressed modestly in their own traditional clothes, not the blue ‘chadari’ and black Arab burqa,” says Maseed.
“Our traditional clothing represents our rich 5,000-year-old culture and history, which makes all Afghans feel proud of who they are.”
Even those who live in the most conservative parts of the country say they have never seen women wearing niqabs, the black garment that covers the face.
“I published this photo because we are Afghan women, we wear our culture with pride and we think our identity cannot be defined by some terrorist group. Our culture is not dark, it is not black and white. It is colorful and there is beauty, there is art, there is handicraft and there is identity,” says Lima Halima Ahmad, a 37-year-old Afghan researcher and founder of the Paywand Afghan Association, which focuses on women’s issues.
As someone who has lived and worked in Afghanistan for the past 20 years, Ahmad says: “Women had a choice. My mother wore a long, large veil and some women chose to wear smaller ones. Dress codes were not imposed on women. “
She adds: “We’re Afghan women and we haven’t seen things like that, where you’re totally covered in some kind of black shadow uniform where you’re wearing black gloves, your eyes aren’t even seen. It looked like something that was specifically ordered for that public display,” she said, referring to the pro-Taleban rally.
Another woman who participated in the Twitter campaign is Malali Bashir, an Afghan journalist based in the Czech Republic. She also portrays Afghan women in their traditional dresses to “show the world the beauty of our culture”.
She says that in the village where she grew up, “a burqa, black or blue, was never the norm and women wore their Afghan cultural dresses. Older women wore a black headdress and younger women wore colorful shawls. women greeted men shaking hands.”
“There is a recent and growing pressure on Afghan women to change their cultural clothes and cover themselves completely or disappear from public view. the dance nation of Afghanistan called “Attan”.
Taleban officials said that from now on, with the start of the government led by the fundamentalist group, women will be able to study and work in accordance with Sharia Law and local cultural traditions, but there will be strict rules on dress.
Some Afghan women have already started to dress more modestly, and the “chadari” (the blue garment with just a mesh rectangle in front of the eyes) has returned, with more women being seen wearing them in Kabul and other cities across the country.
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