Afghan Women Are Sharing Photos of Colorful Traditional Dresses in Protest of Taliban Clothing Mandate

The Taliban's return to power has ignited widespread fear that Afghan women will be forced out of the professional and educational spaces they occupied before the American withdrawal. The latest worrying order from Taliban leadership decreed that female university students be separated from men and “observe hijab according to [the Taliban's interpretation of] Sharia” law. In response to this mandate, Afghan women around the world have taken to Twitter to share images of their traditional, colorful clothing in protest of the Taliban telling women what to wear.

Afghanistan is a country with a rich and diverse array of local traditions. Traditional dress can vary from region to region, but brilliant colors and geometric designs are common. Farkhondeh Akbari, a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, told The Washington Post, “These colors were the smell of home for me.” She tweeted powerfully, “Our girls sew their colorful dreams on dark days.”

When the Taliban took over, concern rose over what women would be required to wear. Under the last Taliban rule, women were required to cover themselves by wearing a burqa. A recent image of women completely covered in black burqas gathering in support of the Taliban sparked a variety of internet reactions this weekend. Among the reactions was a post by Dr. Bahar Jalali—a former history professor at the American University in Afghanistan—of a photo of her teen self in traditional dress. She said, “I wanted to inform the world [that] the attires that you’ve been seeing in the media…[is] not our culture, that’s not our identity.”

Other Afghan women have followed suit, sharing a wide variety of boldly colorful and intricately decorated outfits to Twitter with hashtags such as #AfghanistanCulture, #AfghanWomen, and #DoNotTouchMyClothes. The posts highlighted the colors and traditions behind each outfit—both explicitly and implicitly questioning the Taliban's new order, which at present only mandates hijab for students. Dr. Jalali also emphasized in a tweet, “Afghanistan's culture and identity must emanate from Afghans.”

Afghan women have highlighted how diverse women's clothing traditions are in the country. Kahkashan Koofi, who recently left her job after the Taliban takeover, told WaPo that her anger lies not in the burqas donned by the pro-Taliban women in online images, but rather with the mandate handed down by the extremist leadership which deprived women of their choice. Of course, many Afghan women have long chosen to wear the burqa or cover their hair with a hijab. Shekiba Teimori, a singer and activist who recently fled Kabul, informed CNN, “Hijab existed before Kabul's fall. We could see hijabi women, but this was based on family decisions and not the government.”

The #DoNotTouchMyClothes posts highlight the beauty of Afghan culture and Afghan women's identities as expressed through traditional garments. According to Ruhi Khan, a researcher at the London School of Economics, the protest “is not just a protest of the Taliban’s imposed dress, which they think is Islamic, but also against the West’s notion of what Afghan women are supposed to wear.” The women behind the #DoNotTouchMyClothes posts are driving home two important points: that one's culture is precious, and that what a woman wears should be her choice and no one else's.

Afghan women round the world are sharing images of their beautiful and colorful traditional dress in protest of a recent Taliban imposition of a mandatory hijab for university students.

Started by Dr. Bahar Jalali, the #DoNotTouchMyClothes protest shows the diversity of dress and culture within Afghanistan.

Speaking to news outlets, some of the women sharing outfits expressed their anger not at the women wearing burqas in recent images, but at the idea of women being forced to wear attire agains their wishes.

Some women also hoped the images serve as a protest to the West's narrow view of Afghan women.

h/t: [CNN, The Washington Post]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and reading while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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