“Alongside with the withdrawal of NATO military forces from Afghanistan, the country’s districts fell to the Taliban group one after the other, and this concern was strengthened in my mind that the republican system and democratic values would also be destroyed. This fear created a nightmare in me to imagine the vampire fighters of the Taliban with a terrible appearance in the streets of Kabul and then a city empty of women, mothers and girls who will be seen in the blue bags called burqas everywhere in the city. Taliban means burqa! I don’t have any other image or definition.” These are the words of 24-year-old Rudabah in Kabul city.
The last NATO soldiers had not left Afghanistan yet, when on August 15th, 2021, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the former president of the country, and his cabinet members fled the country and handed over Kabul to the Taliban terrorist group. The nightmare of girls like Rudabah turned into a reality. (August 17th, 2021) Taliban spokesperson announced from Doha, Qatar that “observance of Islamic hijab” is “mandatory” for all Afghan women. A few weeks later, extensive advertising campaigns were launched, and then by installing banners in the cities of Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar and distributing brochures to the people, the blue burqa and the Arabic hijab (black outfit) were offered as two types of “Islamic hijab” for women.
Now the basic question is why the Taliban targeted women’s clothing and why the burqa? What memories do women have of the burqa? How do women fight against the burqa?
Variety; The cultural value that the Taliban considers a threat
Rudabah, a 24-year-old civil activist in Kabul, says: “Afghanistan is a diverse and colorful society that is made up of dozens of ethnic groups, several religions, different sects, several languages, different genders, and different customs and traditions. In fact, this “diversity” is the source of strength and the beauty of society. However, this diversity in the Taliban attitude is not only worthless, but also considered a threat. Therefore, we understand that the Taliban, among other political and social affairs, are seeking uniformity regarding culture and especially women’s clothing; But trying to homogenize, imposing a single preference on a multicultural society will cause tension.
Mohammad Tariq, 50 years old, is a teacher in Badakhshan. He considers the reason for the Taliban’s treatment of women to be traditional, tribal teachings and religious schools, which are the basis for the birth and strengthening of the Taliban. According to him, “The Taliban have a backward tribal mentality that does not understand the importance of Afghanistan’s cultural diversity, they only want men to be present and marginalize women for various reasons. The issue of hijab is one of those issues for which they give religious justification, but their goals are more political.”
Lina Heydari, a women’s rights activist from Herat, says: “The burqa is not a common hijab in the Islamic world or in other Islamic countries, it is just a Taliban outfit that makes women hate religion.”
Although we did not find a reliable source about the origin of the burqa, but during the research we found that the Taliban burqa with a similar structure is from the northern regions of British India, which is now the tribal areas of Pakistan, and entered Afghanistan through the southern and eastern provinces.
Burqa production and sales market
43-year-old Jamil owns a burqa shop in Kabul. He has been selling women’s clothes for at least five years in various locations in the city; But last year, before the Taliban group arrived in Kabul, he added long dresses, Arabic hijab and some blue burqas to his shop. According to him, after the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul, he saved a lot of money because of the booming burqa and Arabic hijab market. He says: “Blue burqas are produced in factories in China and a few in Pakistan from cotton and plastic fabrics.
Before the Taliban takeover, a burqa was sold from 300 to 500 Afghanis and there were limited shops that each of them maybe sold one burqa per week. But after the Taliban takeover, the price and amount of burqa sales increased many times and now a burqa is sold from one thousand to several thousand Afghanis.
55-year-old Khadijah is originally from Daikundi province. I asked her about the burqa in Hazarajat villages (central provinces of Afghanistan). I said: “Khadijah, do you know that according to the Taliban, you are not wearing an Islamic hijab and you have to wear a burqa?” After a pause, she smiled and said, “How can I wear a burqa, the burqa is expensive and outdated.” I said with a smile: “But the Taliban are back and wearing a burqa is mandatory!” Khadija said: “No, the burqa gets old, the previous time when the Taliban took power, we didn’t wear the burqa because of the Taliban, only some women wore burqas in wedding ceremonies out of excitement. Most of the groom’s mother and the bride’s mother wore burqa, there was very little. I borrowed a burqa from my neighbor and wore it at one of my sisters’ wedding.”
But for many women in the south and east of the country, the burqa is not an outfit that is worn out of interest at weddings, but is a mandatory and permanent covering for women.
Lima was a 40 years old. Lima had come to buy a new burqa from Jameel’s shop. She didn’t even remove her burqa from her face while talking, and that’s why I couldn’t distinguish her from the other women for a few minutes after the interview, most of them were wearing blue burqas.
Lima said: “When I became a teenager, my mother cut one of her blue burqas and put it on me. I was not comfortable, I couldn’t walk with a burqa, I always fell down; Because I could not see in front of me. It was very difficult to work, and it is still difficult now, but we were told: Hijab is mandatory and burqa is the best hijab.”
I asked her, what will happen if you don’t wear a burqa today? She said, “Hijablessness…” I said no, without a burqa, like the women who are passing by the shop, wearing traditional or modern clothes. After a long silence, she said: “Before, only our men and old women said to wear it, now that it is the order of the Islamic Emirate, we must wear it.”
“The burqa is not a requirement of Islamic Sharia, the burqa has no roots in the culture and tradition of Afghan women’s clothing, the burqa is just a political tool. This is a method of control, the systematic model of which we see in the mandatory hijab and chastity plan of the Velayat al-Faqih in Iran.”
Lina Heydari also has a bitter experience: “Unfortunately, during the previous Taliban regime, I wore [the burqa] for a very short time. Most of the women and girls in our family used this cage. I think wearing a burqa is a mental torture for women. Burqa is a cage, men can only understand its suffering and hardships when they themselves have to wear it, walk and work with it.”
In her opinion, women’s activities are limited under the burqa. Women cannot have a colorful presence in the community and in educational and social institutions while wearing the burqa, this causes psychological damage to women, even worse if it is mandatory, “It creates for women a feeling of dissatisfaction with their gender and they develop self-hatred and despair. And they become depressed, they may commit suicide.”
Lina added that it’s not just the big political debates about the hijab, the burqa limits our daily communication: “We don’t always communicate through words. We send messages to each other with body language, eyes, facial expressions, smiles, hand and head gestures, and the burqa deprives us of these methods of communication.”
The link between the Taliban and the burqa
Lina Heydari believes that: “Although the Taliban say that the philosophy of the Islamic hijab and burqa is women’s immunity, in reality, the Taliban have a different relationship with the burqa. The burqa does not make women immune. The Taliban say that the burqa prevents prostitution so that men are not provoked by the sight of women, no, the burqa not only does not prevent prostitution but also causes insecurity, violence, and other crimes. Suicide attackers and criminals can wear it and commit suicide and explosion. In France, it is forbidden to wear the burqa and hijab in public places so that people’s identities are known and security officers prevent crimes from happening.”
The burqa is not only an outfit
The sources of this report think that the burqa is not only an outfit but a political tool to control society, rule over women’s bodies, interfere in the privacy of citizens, and remove half of the population from power, economy, and politics.
Lina Heydari says: “This is a dirty policy of the Taliban, who raise sensitive issues such as the right to education and women’s clothing to reach their goals, to divert public opinion from monitoring corruption, underemployment and other tyranny of their regime.”
Rudabah says: “Because the Taliban does not have national and international legitimacy, it needs problem-making, directing public opinion on marginal issues and multi-polarization of society to control the society. Multipolarization of society in cultural issues is an option. In her opinion, by turning women’s clothing into a hot political issue, while making women involved in marginal issues so that they do not appear in the context of social and political affairs, the Taliban makes the society multi-polar. “The burqa is not a requirement of Islamic Sharia, the burqa has no roots in the culture and tradition of Afghan women’s clothing, the burqa is just a political tool. This is a method of control, the systematic model of which we see in the compulsory hijab and chastity plan of the Velayat al-Faqih in Iran. The Taliban and we have a different opinions on the type of dresses. Taliban says: “Just wear the outfits that we ordered, even if we wear the same black burqa and niqab, they will still ask, why didn’t you wear a mask? Why didn’t you wear a black mask? Your eyes are obvious, why did you wear beautiful glasses? Wear simple! And these questions and excuses do not end; Because the Taliban are a small group of men from a particular tribe, but Afghanistan is a society of 35 million with dozens of different social classes. Therefore, the easiest thing is to remove half of the population of the society with a decree, and in this way, it will be easier for them to control the society.”
Rudabah said about the multi-polarization of the society: “After the Taliban takeover, I noticed many times at my workplace that even female colleagues warn each other about the type of clothing to wear appropriate clothes. In a university in the west of Kabul, a female cleaner inside The university warned me to put up my headscarf properly! This means, that in less than a year, the Taliban group has found supporters even in the country’s academic circles who not only consider themselves obliged to follow the orders of the Taliban, but also feel that they are responsible for the implementation of the orders of the Taliban. It is a tragedy that the women of Afghanistan will be divided into opposing groups, supporters and agents of the Taliban’s hijab, because the multipolar society will never be able to overthrow the Taliban, and if women accept the mandatory hijab of the Taliban for any reason, the principles and rules of the Taliban system will also be strengthened in the society. Gender discrimination and misogyny common in Afghanistan may make men stand by the Taliban on the hijab issue or at least remain neutral and leave women alone under the Taliban burqa. This is where there is no hope for change, progress, development, peace, security, comfort, and relaxation in this country.”
The fight against mandatory hijab
Marzia Nateqi, 23 years old, is in charge of the diagnostic laboratory of one of the private hospitals in Kabul. Even though Marziya has not changed the type of clothing she wears, she says firmly: “We do not accept the mandatory hijab, we do not allow the Taliban to determine the color, size, and type of our clothes.” But her concern is that women will be forced to wear a burqa due to the fear of being disrespected by Taliban fighters or fear of losing their jobs.
According to her, the moral police of the Taliban group has come to their workplace many times and she has had to hide her hair. “It was self-censorship to save my job.” But she believes that “The social environment cannot be censored, we actually see that women respond negatively to the Taliban’s orders through litigation, advertising, and defying their behavior.”
Marzia wears normal outfits in the hospital where she works and says that she is fighting for the freedom of her clothing.
Marzia says: “We should fight against the Taliban by any way. But my method is a practical struggle. Every day, I pass by the Taliban security checkpoint in the same clothes that I wore during the democracy era. This is how I want to tell the Taliban: I will not wear the Taliban burqa and the black Arab outfit.”
Mohammad Tariq says: “Civil struggle and not wearing a burqa is the best option to fight against this plan. Although civil movements are suppressed in the Taliban era, civility is a sign of our culture and our difference from the Taliban’s petrification.”
The Taliban group in Herat first described wearing the burqa as a “recommendation” to preserve the Islamic hijab, but the women of Herat did not wear the burqa, then the Taliban set “punishments” for those who do not follow the order to wear the burqa. But Mrs. Heydari says: “Herat women still wear the same clothes that were common before in the street and market, in recreational places. According to her, the Taliban group was only able to impose burqas and black veils by appointing special fighters to check the clothing of women in government offices, universities, and courts of the city.”
Rudabah says: “The fight against compulsory hijab is an unavoidable mission. Afghan women have to stand up against the burqa plan for the sake of their rights and freedoms, for the sake of their longevity; Also, after four decades of silence and scattered struggles, the girls of Iran are now fully standing against the compulsory hijab of Velayat al-Faqih.
According to her, no matter the baseless religious, traditional, or political reason behind the burqa, the Taliban are shortening their regime period by interfering in the privacy of citizens. “We actually saw that in the first days of announcing the decree of the Islamic hijab, not only women, but representatives of all sections of society and even the world community reacted. As long as the Taliban only give orders regarding the hijab, the society will only show its reaction and opposition, but when the Taliban actually appointed moral police in the cities and villages as the forces for the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice to implement the orders of this group about women and interfere in people’s privacy, tension is created in the form of physical conflict. When a girl is whipped by the Taliban because of her clothes in the street, it definitely creates hatred in the hearts of the witnesses of the scene and the family of the same girl. But since the Taliban do not see the need for social popularity to maintain power; By repeating these whips, they spread the hatred of the people. Undoubtedly, with the increase of complexes and people’s hatred and aversion to the Taliban, society will plan to overthrow the Taliban. When the goal is to topple the Taliban and overthrow a cruel and terrorist regime, resorting to any means is justified to achieve this goal. That’s why I believe that the burqa is not only a nightmare for us women but a black hole that the Taliban will sink into if people are wise.”
Translated by: Ali Rezaei