Afghan women share images of colorful, traditional styles to protest Taliban dress codes

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When the Taliban returned to power over Afghanistan last month, Kahkashan Koofi lost her job as a media adviser for the country’s state-owned TV channel and her family went into hiding because of their political connections.

But on Monday, the 28-year-old put on her clothing of choice, a flowing emerald green dress with an intricate geometry of light green embroidery and a white shawl around her head — a Tajik-style outfit typical in her hometown in Badakhshan province — and felt for a moment at least like herself, connected to the Afghanistan that she loved, she said.

“When I see myself in the mirror it gives me a bit of peace of mind,” she said by. “We are in a prison.”a person sitting in front of a building: Afghan women walk past a closed beauty salon in Kabul on Sept. 11, 2021.© Bernat Armangue/AP Afghan women walk past a closed beauty salon in Kabul on Sept. 11, 2021.

Outside, the Taliban have started to impose dress codes and restrict the movement of women in public places. The militant group has said women should wear “Islamic dress” — a term with no set definition. On Saturday, at a pro-Taliban rally at Kabul University, women wore all black and full body burqas, a style typical of women in Persian Gulf states.

That prompted Koofi and other Afghan women to join an online campaign against the Taliban by sharing pictures of colorful and intricate outfits traditional for their regions, tribes and ethnic groups.

Accompanied by hashtags such as #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture, women posted images of bright and elaborate patterns, seeking to counter the Taliban narrative on what Muslim women in Afghanistan have traditionally worn.

The campaign was started by Bahar Jalali, a former history professor at the American University in Afghanistan.

Jalali told the BBC she started tweeting out pictures of her in Afghan dresses because she felt that “Afghanistan’s identity and sovereignty is under attack.”

“I wanted to inform the world the attires that you’ve been seeing in the media,” in particular those worn by women at the pro-Taliban rally, are “not our culture, that’s not our identity,” she told the BBC.a group of people in a room: Afghan students listen to women speakers before their pro-Taliban rally outside the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul on Sept. 11, 2021.© Stringer/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Afghan students listen to women speakers before their pro-Taliban rally outside the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul on Sept. 11, 2021.

What angered Koofi about the images was not that the women were wearing all-black body and face coverings — which is their right if that they want to, she said — but that the Taliban was not giving women a choice.

While women in Afghanistan do wear a burqa or chadori, which the Taliban have urged women to wear, they have typically come in different colors, such as blue, and have been part of a spectrum of clothing styles.

Afghanistan encompasses a diverse range of tribes and ethnic groups — including Pashtuns, Tajiks and Hazaras — each with distinct cuts and designs developed and passed down through generations. One shared element is an emphasis on colors and intricate patterns, particularly for ornate dresses made by hand and worn for special occasions such as weddings and holiday.

“These colors were the smell of home for me,” said Farkhondeh Akbari, a PhD candidate at the Australian National University researching on the Taliban. “It gave you a sense of identity.”

Akbari’s family is from Daikundi province in central Afghanistan. In her area, many of the seamstresses were poor women who used their work as “a form of self expression,” she said.

“You could see their fantasies in these creations,” she said.

The Taliban made women cover from head to foot, among other restrictions, when they last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. During the two-decade U.S. military campaign — which ended with the U.S. pullout and swift Taliban takeover last month — clothing restrictions loosened in many areas, especially Kabul.

This time around, the Taliban has insisted that it will be more tolerant toward women. So far, they have formed an all-male government, dismissed women from many jobs and violently broken up women-led protests.

After decades of war and repression, Ruhi Kahn, a researcher at the London School of Economics who studies feminism in South Asia, said that clothing in Afghanistan is often connected to how safe women feel. Styles have subsequently shifted in a conservative direction in times of violence and displacement.

“It all depends on where you are going, who you are meeting,” she said.a group of people walking down the street: Afghan women and a girl shop for dresses at a local market in Kabul on Sept. 10, 2021.© Felipe Dana/AP Afghan women and a girl shop for dresses at a local market in Kabul on Sept. 10, 2021.

While Afghan culture “is all about joy and color,” that is not the image she said is usually seen by outsiders, who tend to form an impression of “Afghan” versus “Western” dress.

The online campaign “is not just a protest 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,” said Khan. AdChoices

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