‘Not our culture’: Afghan women tweet pictures of kaleidoscopic robes to protest Taliban’s burqa diktat

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

Afghan women have been tweeting pictures of themselves in coulourful traditional dresses to protest against the Taliban’s order mandating women to wear a Burqa and Hijab.

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.

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.

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.

Some of them dated as far back as the 1980s.

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.

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.

Also Read: From women can’t be ministers to no co-education, a look at the new Taliban’s perspective on women’s rights

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