Horrified by the Taliban’s strict dress codes for female students, an Afghanistan historian rallied women to share photos of themselves wearing traditional Afghan dresses.
It’s a step the women are taking to preserve their Afghan culture and identity.
Bahar Jalali, a former history professor at the American University in Afghanistan, started the #DoNotTouchMyClothes hashtag Saturday in response to seeing images of pro-Taliban protestors wearing black burqas.
“I was deeply concerned because I don’t want the world to think that this is the true face of Afghanistan,” Jalali told USA TODAY in an interview. “I said look I have to do something.”
After Jalali posted a photo of herself wearing a green traditional Afghan dress on Twitter, women all over the world started sharing photos of themselves wearing traditional and colorful Afghan clothing with the hashtags #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture.
Dr. Fatima Kakkar, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Sainte-Justine University Health Center in Montreal, Canada, tweeted in support of the campaign.
“Proudly wearing in our traditional, colourful, vibrant Afghan clothes,” Kakkar tweeted with a photo of women dressed in Afghan attire.
Twitter user Sophia Moruwat posted a photo of herself in traditional Afghan clothing writing, “This is how Afghan women dress.”
Jalali is a historian of 1960s Afghanistan and a women’s rights advocate. She started Afghanistan’s first gender studies program at the American University in Afghanistan.
‘A form of cultural resistance’
She didn’t know her tweet would go viral but she says she’s pleased that it did.
“I think a lot of other Afghan women like myself they sense the urgency,” she said. “These pics are so much more than about fashion or a fashion statement, although it is that too. It’s really a form of cultural resistance and all these other Afghan women out there know what’s at stake.”
Afghanistan’s acting minister of higher education, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, said Sunday women will be allowed to study in the universities but only in gender-segregated classes. The women will also have to adhere to Islamic dress code.
The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan last month as U.S. troops withdrew from the nation after 20 years of war. The extremist group claimed it was more tolerant and accepting of women’s rights. However, it ordered Afghan women to wear clothing that covers the entire body and most of the face.
Jalali said the Taliban’s clothing restrictions are “utterly foreign” to Afghan women. She also questioned if the women at the pro-Taliban demonstration were Afghans because she said they were wearing long-sleeve gloves she had never seen in Afghanistan.
“In pre-war Afghanistan, women had choices in what they wore. My mother got married in a miniskirt in 1969,” said Jalali. “At that time, you could wear a miniskirt. You could wear traditional Afghan clothes. You could wear a scarf. People had the freedom to express themselves through clothing and that’s gone.”
Afghan women said the Taliban have beaten girls for wearing “revealing sandals” since returning to power. In one province women said they weren’t allowed to go places, such as the market, without a male escort.
Taliban special forces brought an abrupt end to a peaceful equal rights protest by Afghan women earlier this month when they fired gunshots into the air and tear-gassed the protestors.
The #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanCulture hashtags show that Afghans don’t need outsiders to emancipate them, Jalali said.
“I think that one thing that my campaign can do is to show people in the West that Afghan women are just like other women,” said Jalali. “They have agency. They’re very self-aware. They’re not oppressed. They’re willing to take risks.”
“We should not be seen as victims. We should be seen as fighters.”
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