#DoNotTouchMyClothes: Afghan women protest against Taliban rights restrictions

This summer, Bahar Jalali watched in excitement as the United States withdrew its military from Afghanistan and the Taliban began to regain control of the country. Women were asked to stay home and cover themselves – an early indicator that other rights, protection and services for women would soon be eliminated, including this week the right to go to Kabul University.

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

When reports surfaced this summer that Afghan women with Taliban takeover were smashing their degrees of education and securing homes for women closed their doors, she was in despair.

Then, on September 11, she saw pictures of hundreds of women in Kabul wearing all-black in full veils and long robes in a pro-Taliban demonstration. (The timing of the demonstration – the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks – along with the presence of Taliban fighters and subsequent official Taliban statements suggest that the demonstration was organized by the Taliban.)

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

Forced to say no, she tweeted a photo of herself from 2005, wearing an emerald green dress with delicate embroidery – a traditional outfit she wore to her first wedding. “This is Afghan culture,” she said wrote in the caption.

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

Ms. Jalali shared another image, of her as a teenager in the United States in the 1990s, wearing a blue-and-gold Afghan kuchi, “a dress worn by the nomads in Afghanistan,” she said. “Kuchi women wear this dress on a daily basis. It is their everyday clothing.”

Ms Jalali did not expect her tweets to go viral, but she now hopes the hashtag can teach the world more about Afghan culture. “I just hope the world through these dresses will see that the real Afghan culture is colorful and vibrant and vibrant and animated and really meant to celebrate life,” she said.

Zarifa Ghafari, an activist who became one of Afghanistan’s first female mayors at the age of 26 in 2019 and had to flee the country in August, shared a photo on Twitter of the lively Afghan clothes she wore earlier this month to 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 email statement. “The Taliban is trying to erase the presence of women – to erase them from the walls, from the streets, from schools, from work, from the government.”

“We are so much more than a dress, an outfit,” she wrote. But “my mother, grandmother and older generations have worn similar dresses with bright colors. This is our beautiful heritage, our rich culture, our joy of life.”

Sophia Moruwat, 25, a dialogue coordinator in Norway who lived in Afghanistan until 2002, also attended. “This is how Afghan women dress,” she wrote in one tweet accompanied by a photo of himself in a bright yellow Afghan kuchi and handmade jewelry, made of molten glass and coins.

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

“My spirit is my Afghan identity,” she said. “It is one thing among many that symbolizes being Afghan. My spirit is what has kept me connected to my country and my culture for the last 20 years, we have been away from our homeland. “

Ms. Moruwat said her own “memories, flashbacks and encounters with these terrorists” are what made her want to take a stand, adding that her sister was forced into marriage at the age of 13 and “could not pursue an education or a career. ”After years of struggle and oppression, Mrs Moruwat’s sister was finally able to pursue an education and obtain a university degree, Mrs Moruwat said.

“Seeing the image of women covered from head to toe set fire to the already existing fear in me,” Ms. Moruwat. “This was a step towards erasing women from society again.”

In the 1990s, under the first Taliban regime, Afghan women’s access to education, employment, and health care was severely restricted. Burqa clothing was mandatory, women were not allowed to be seen in public without men, and almost all female education was banned.

Since the Taliban took power in August, they have been trying to appear more flexible. Although the schools have reopened for male students, no date has been announced for the return of female students. In addition to requiring women to wear the hijab in schools, female students will not be allowed to study with male students, the Taliban’s higher education minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, announced earlier this month.

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

Ms. Yahia, now a part-time makeup artist and student in Virginia, also joined the campaign on social media with an Instagram post showing 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. “The dress is special to me because it symbolizes freedom,” she said. “Before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, women had the freedom to express themselves through clothing, and it is sad to see freedom taken away from them.”

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