In a campaign started by Dr Bahar Jalali, hundreds of women are using hashtags like #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture along with their pictures in colourful traditional dresses
The Taliban are breaking their promises on women’s rights and inclusivity in Afghanistan. From taking away gender-neutral and equal opportunity classrooms to chipping away at their most basic freedom of choices in everyday life, women are paying the most profound price of a hurried and jagged US exit.
Even as they have shown an inclination for positive press and image makeover among the Western circles, the Taliban have shown they are least hesitant in using violence against protesters and doubling down with gag orders.
But women activists have been exploring avenues to make their voices heard. From facing batons and whips to armed gunmen in Afghan streets, a women-lead rights movement has been quietly brewing in the country. Most recently, they have taken to social media to reclaim their sartorial choices under a black and white Taliban rule.
Afghan women from across the world have started an online campaign to protest against the strict new dress code for female students imposed by the Taliban. They are posting photos of themselves wearing colourful traditional Afghan dresses on social media to reclaim their distinct culture against a monolithic version of Islam propagated by the Taliban.
In a campaign started by Dr Bahar Jalali, a former history professor at the American University in Afghanistan, hundreds of women are using hashtags like #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture along with their hijab-less pictures.
“I encourage Afghans worldwide to share the beauty of Afghan culture. Today, the Afghan nation and identity is facing a brutal assault by foreign terrorists who have taken our soil hostage and imposed alien ways on our people,” Jalil tweeted along with a picture of herself dressed in beautiful dark green robes.
— Dr. Bahar Jalali (@RoxanaBahar1) September 12, 2021
Notorious for their brutal and oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban had promised a more inclusive government this time. However, all the top positions were handed to key leaders from the movement and the Haqqani network – the most violent faction of the Taliban known for devastating attacks. Furthermore, they have boasted about ‘allowing’ women into classrooms and workplaces but have mandated the segregation of genders in classrooms and said women students, teachers and employees must wear hijabs. They even got women in long, fully veiled black abayas, covering their faces and hands to host a pro-Taliban protest at a university in Kabul.
However, the Taliban couldn’t have painted a starker contrast to the pictures being tweeted by these women.
Many were taken aback by the way the women had dressed at the pro-Taliban rally; the nib and hand coverings are seen as a foreign concept to many Afghans who are used to the colourful, kaleidoscopic traditional dresses.
I showed my very religious, very conservative Pashtun grandma whose lived all over from Kabul & Kandahar to Sorkhab and other rural areas. She was incredibly disappointed in the garbs that these plants have started wearing. This is not our culture nor religion. https://t.co/8PbUPsNbag
— asiya | آسيه 🇦🇫 (@asiyabrkz) September 11, 2021
Hundreds of women quickly joined the campaign, tweeting their own versions of traditional afghan dresses as prevalent in different parts of the country. Some sported elaborate head jewellery while others were dressed in long billowing kurtas that were an explosion of bright colours. The women attributed these varying attires to the culture of different tribes and regions but almost all of them denied that Hijab was ever a part of their culture.
I wear my traditional Afghan dress proudly.
It’s colourful and beautiful.
Not at all like the images you saw circulating yesterday.
— Tahmina Aziz (@tahmina_aziz) September 12, 2021
— Fari SQ (@fari_sq) September 14, 2021
This is the real #afghan culture the #taliban are trying to hide🇦🇫 #AfghanistanCulture #DoNotTouchMyClothes #AfghanWomen #Afghanistan Thank you to @RoxanaBahar1 for inspiring this movement to show the world real #AfghanCulture pic.twitter.com/9zMi6cLi4W
— Tamana Nasir (@tamana_nasir) September 14, 2021
Some of them dated as far back as the 1980s.
— ariana delawari (@arianadelawari) September 13, 2021
My mom @HomairaJalali in a sleeveless knee length white dress as a child in Afghanistan circa 1958. She is standing next to her father. Girls and women in our country once wore all kinds of beautiful garments. #DoNotTouchMyClothes #AfghanistanCulture pic.twitter.com/c36BhvokKZ
— Dr. Bahar Jalali (@RoxanaBahar1) September 14, 2021
The granddaughter of a former-era feminist also tweeted a then verses now contrast to highlight that a monochromatic hijab was in fact brought to Afghanistan by the Taliban.
I’m the granddaughter of Merman Rukhshana. She is known for being the 1st woman in Afghanistan to remove her chador & the 1st famous female singer of Afghanistan. A bounty was placed on her by the Taliban. Proud feminists! #DoNotTouchMyClothes #AfghanWomen #AfghanCulture pic.twitter.com/WnTS3Eo6W9
— Dr. Khat Assil Tarvirdian (@Assessment_Nerd) September 12, 2021
Jalali’s campaign was an instant success, which even garnered significant media attention. She said that her’s was a campaign aimed at informing, educating, and dispelling the “misinformation that is being propagated by Taliban”.
“No woman has ever dressed like this in the history of Afghanistan. This is utterly foreign and alien to Afghan culture. I posted my pic in the traditional Afghan dress to inform, educate, and dispel the misinformation that is being propagated by Taliban,” said Jalali.
Speaking to BBC, Jalali said that she started the campaign because “one of my biggest concerns is Afghanistan’s identity and sovereignty is under attack”.
Posting a picture of herself on Twitter in a green Afghan dress, she urged other Afghan women to share theirs to show “the true face of Afghanistan”.
“I wanted to inform the world the attires that you’ve been seeing in the media (referring to those worn by women at the pro-Taliban rally) that’s not our culture, that’s not our identity,” she said.