Afghan women are sharing photos of themselves in traditional Afghan dresses as they attempt to rally against the Taliban’s strict dress codes for female students.
Historian Bahar Jalali, a former history professor at the American University in Afghanistan, started the #DoNotTouchMyClothes hashtag Saturday in response to seeing images of pro-Taliban protestors wearing black burqas.
“I was deeply concerned because I don’t want the world to think that this is the true face of Afghanistan,” Jalali told USA TODAY in an interview. “I said, look, I have to do something.”
Following Jalali’s post of a photo of herself in a green traditional Afghan dress on Twitter, women around the world shared photos of themselves wearing the colourful traditional garb with the hashtags #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture.
Dr. Fatima Kakkar, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Sainte-Justine University Health Center in Montreal, Canada, tweeted her support of the campaign, writing, “Proudly wearing in our traditional, colourful, vibrant Afghan clothes,” with a photo of women dressed in traditional Afghan dresses.
Jalali, a historian of 1960s Afghanistan and a women’s rights advocate, started the gender studies program at the American University in Afghanistan.
Speaking about the campaign, Jalali said she did not know her tweet would go viral but says she is pleased it did.
“I think a lot of other Afghan women, like myself, they sense the urgency,” she said. “These pics are so much more than about fashion or a fashion statement, although it is that too. It’s really a form of cultural resistance and all these other Afghan women out there know what’s at stake.”
Afghanistan’s acting minister of higher education, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, said Sunday that women will be allowed to study in universities but only in gender-segregated classes. Women studying have to follow a strict Islamic dress code.
Jalali said the Taliban’s clothing restrictions are “utterly foreign” to Afghan women, questioning if the women at the pro-Taliban demonstration were Afghans as they were wearing long-sleeve gloves she had never seen in Afghanistan.
“In pre-war Afghanistan, women had choices in what they wore. My mother got married in a miniskirt in 1969,” said Jalali. “At that time, you could wear a miniskirt. You could wear traditional Afghan clothes. You could wear a scarf. People had the freedom to express themselves through clothing and that’s gone.”
“I think that one thing that my campaign can do is to show people in the West that Afghan women are just like other women,” said Jalali. “They have agency. They’re very self-aware. They’re not oppressed. They’re willing to take risks.”
“We should not be seen as victims. We should be seen as fighters.”