#DoNotTouchMyClothes: Afghan women protest Taliban restrictions on their rights


This summer, Bahar Jalali watched anxiously as the United States pulled its military out of Afghanistan and the Taliban began to regain control of the country. Women were told to stay home and cover up – an early indicator that other rights, protections and services for women would soon be eliminated, including, this week, the right to attend Kabul University.

Ms Jalali, a visiting associate professor at Loyola University in Maryland, is a member of the Afghan diaspora – born in Kabul, raised in the United States, but still linked to her home country, where she returned in 2009 to teach at the American University. from Afghanistan. She left in 2016 after surviving a violent attack on the university by the Taliban.

When reports surfaced this summer that, with the Taliban takeover, Afghan women were shredding their degrees and women’s shelters closing their doors, she was shocked.

Then, on September 11, she saw images of hundreds of women in Kabul dressed in black with full veils and long dresses during a pro-Taliban protest. (The timing of the protest – the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks – along with the presence of Taliban fighters and official Taliban statements released afterwards suggest that the protest was organized by the Taliban.)

“This confirmed my fears that our culture, our heritage is under attack,” Ms. Jalali, 46, said in a telephone interview. “One of my biggest concerns now that the Taliban is back in power is Afghan sovereignty, Afghan identity, Afghan culture, Afghan heritage. Even before the Taliban came to power, 43 years of war really transformed our culture to the point where very important aspects of it are lost. “

Forced to speak up, she tweeted a photo of herself from 2005, wearing an emerald green dress with delicate embroidery – a traditional outfit she wore for her first wedding. “It’s Afghan culture,” she wrote in the legend.

The tweet went viral, and soon, women around the world started sharing photos of themselves in their own traditional Afghan clothing, often with the hashtag #DoNotTouchMyClothes.

Ms Jalali shared another photo, of herself as a teenager in the United States in the 1990s, wearing a blue and gold Afghan kuchi, “a dress the nomads of Afghanistan wore,” she said. “Kuchi women wear this dress every day. It’s their everyday outfit.

Ms Jalali didn’t expect her tweets to go viral, but now she’s hoping the hashtag can tell the world more about Afghan culture. “I just hope the world will see through these dresses that the real Afghan culture is colorful and vibrant, alive and bustling and really meant to celebrate life,” she said.

Zarifa Ghafari, an activist who became one of Afghanistan’s first female mayors at age 26 in 2019 and had to flee the country in August, shared a photo on Twitter vibrant Afghan clothes she wore earlier this month for the Geneva PeaceTalks. “With my traditional colorful dress and a powerful message from all parts of my country representing Afghanistan, especially Afghan women at #GenevaPeaceTalks,” she wrote.

“It is important to raise awareness and show the true colors of women in Afghanistan,” Ms. Ghafari later wrote in an emailed statement. “The Taliban are trying to erase the presence of women – erase them from walls, streets, schools, work, government.

“We are much more than a dress, an outfit,” she wrote. But “my mother, my grandmother and the older generations wore similar dresses in bright colors. It is our beautiful heritage, our rich culture, our joie de vivre.

Sophia Moruwat, 25, dialogue coordinator in Norway who lived in Afghanistan until 2002, also participated. “This is how Afghan women dress,” she wrote in a Tweeter accompanying a photo of her in a bright yellow afghan kuchi and handmade jewelry, made from molten glass and coins.

In an interview, Ms. Moruwat noted that the term for traditional Afghan clothing is “Gand”.

“My ghent is my Afghan identity,” she said. “It’s one of many things that symbolizes being Afghan. My ghent is what kept me connected to my country and my culture over the past 20 years we have been far from our homeland.

Ms Moruwat said her own “memories, flashbacks and encounters with these terrorists” prompted her to take a stand, adding that her sister was forced to marry at the age of 13 and “could not pursue any further action. studies or career. “After years of struggle and oppression, Ms. Moruwat’s sister was finally able to continue her education and graduate from college,” Ms. Moruwat said.

“Seeing the image of women covered from head to toe ignited the fear that already existed in me,” Ms. Moruwat said. “It was a step towards erasing women from society once again.”

In the 1990s, during the first Taliban regime, Afghan women’s access to education, work and health care was severely restricted. Wearing the burqa was compulsory, women were not allowed to be seen in public without men, and almost all female education was prohibited.

Since the Taliban took power in August, they have tried to be more flexible. Yet as schools have reopened for male students, no date for the return of female students has been announced. In addition to requiring women to wear the hijab in schools, female students will not be allowed to study alongside male students, Taliban Higher Education Minister Abdul Bqi Haqqani announced earlier this month. .

“It is alarming to me because I have the impression that women will no longer have a role in society, and we would lose all of the progress that we have made in the last 20 years since we took over. Taliban control, ”said Marjan Yahia, 28, who was born in Kabul and moved to Canada at the age of 6.

Ms Yahia, now a part-time makeup artist and student in Virginia, also joined the social media campaign with a Instagram post which showed her wearing an ornate kuchi with coins and mirrors sewn into it.

It was a gift from her father, who bought it for her during a visit to Afghanistan, Ms. Yahia said. “The dress is special to me because it symbolizes freedom,” she said. “Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, women had the freedom to express themselves through clothing, and it’s sad to see that freedom taken away from them.


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