In Afghanistan, Taliban diktat sparks debate over women’s dress | News

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Kabul, Afghanistan – Many Afghan women in the capital Kabul protested against a poster campaign launched by the Taliban, encouraging women to wear the burqa or hijab.

Afghanistan’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice posted posters in cafes and shops in Kabul earlier this month encouraging the wearing of the burqa, a full-face veil that also covers the face. He has not issued an official directive.

“According to Sharia, a Muslim woman must observe the hijab,” wrote the posters, accompanied by photos of women dressed in blue burkas and others in all black. The word “hijab” accompanied each image as if to clarify what it should look like.

Many Muslim women around the world choose to wear the headscarf – in a variety of styles – as an expression of their faith and part of their cultural identity.

Afghan women traditionally wear the burqa – mostly sold in shades of blue, white and gray – but black dresses are less common across the country.

The Taliban, which returned to power in August, clarified that the dress code was not compulsory, but insisted that women must cover their bodies as required by their Islamic faith. During their last stint in power between 1996 and 2001, the wearing of the burqa was strictly enforced.

Today, the streets of downtown Kabul are filled with women wearing different styles of veil. While some dress in burkas that cover their faces, others wear headscarves and a range of mixed traditional and Western fashions.

Many Afghan women don’t see what it is – as the headscarf is already part of many Afghan women’s daily dress – while others denounce it as an attack on their freedoms.

“As Afghan women, we know our religious rights and obligations,” said Jamila Afghani, women’s rights activist and former deputy minister of labor and social affairs.

“It should be a woman’s choice to wear whatever she wants,” said Afghani, who also leads the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Afghanistan.

For Afghani, the campaign also shows a Taliban obsession with unimportant issues amid a deepening economic crisis that has left many families unable to feed their children.

“They should be busy working on bigger things than women’s outfits,” Afghani said. “Most women already wear a traditional chador [shawl or headscarf]so why is this even being raised.

A group of Afghan women protested the burqa and other restrictions outside the Ministry of Women’s Affairs earlier this week [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Council or law?

Spokesperson for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Muhammad Akif Muhajir, told Al Jazeera that because the hijab or burqa is a “Quranic order”, Muslim women should wear it.

“If the Sharia orders them [women] to do something, they should act accordingly,” he said, adding that the hijab or burqa could be “anything a woman uses to cover her body… a hijab or the blue burqa or in some regions, women use large shawls to cover themselves”. .

Although there is no policy to enforce the wearing of the burqa, nor penalties for women who disobey the advisory, there have been sporadic reports of Taliban soldiers trying to enforce it.

“These things tend to become problematic in the absence of clear guidelines and training for combatants,” said Obaidullah Baheer, senior lecturer in transitional justice at the American University of Afghanistan.

“When they [Taliban fighters] have the impression [by their leaders] responsible for the moral police of society, they are bound to abuse their authority,” he added.

Some Afghan women dispute the Taliban’s claim that covering up – especially the face – is absolutely necessary for women.

“The way I dress does not contradict my religion,” said Kabul-based women’s rights activist Arifa Fatimi.

Sonia Ahmadyar, a 36-year-old mother of three, said: “I am totally against enforcing a certain dress code for women. We shouldn’t have to wear something we don’t want.

According to Afghani, the Taliban’s recommendation on the burqa is not what Islam asks of women. “If they [the Taliban] talk about sharia, islam does not specify dress for women.

“It begs the question: do the Taliban even understand Sharia?

They try to put a veil on women’s faces, while a person’s face is their identity.

by Jamila Afghani, women’s rights activist

Women face multifaceted pressures

For Afghan women, the economic crisis engulfing the country has been compounded by new restrictions imposed by the Taliban on their employment, education and even movement.

To protest these restrictions – including the burqa – some Afghan women gathered to demonstrate outside the Ministry of Women’s Affairs last week.

Videos on social media showed a small group of women speaking out against various restrictions, as some snatched a white burka from a woman and threw it to the ground, saying it came from “backward Pakistani and Arab culture”.

Taliban religious police posted posters in the capital Kabul ordering Afghan women to cover up
Taliban religious police put up posters around Kabul calling on Afghan women to cover up [File: Mohd Rasfan/AFP]

Commenting on the incident, Sahar Ghumkhor, an academic at the University of Melbourne and author of The Political Psychology of the Veil, said: “It is important to point out that the chador/burqa has always been worn in Afghanistan, long before the Taliban do not exist.

“Protests confuse its imposition with being ‘outsider’, obliterating the reality of women who wear it, especially in rural Afghanistan.”

She added that many of the women at the protest wore Western outfits: “If the problem is its foreignness, then why the selective resistance?” she asked.

The Afghans of WILFP accepted. “The burqa has been part of Afghan culture for a long time, especially in villages and remote areas, even in cities among older women,” she said, adding that her mother and grandmother wore it. .

Ghumkhor noted that “veiling and unveiling has become a reductionist lens through which complex social, political and economic conditions are read”.

While the imposition of the veil must be protested, its “over-presence in the Afghan feminist imagination must be questioned, especially at a time when the country is starving”, she said.

Afghan women in burkas sit outside a beauty salon.
Afghan women face a deep economic crisis that is engulfing the country and has been compounded by new restrictions on their jobs, education and even movement [File: Wakil Kohsar/AFP]
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