March 9, 2015—The Internet was set ablaze with reports coming from Afghanistan this past week.
A group of Afghan men marched through the nation’s capital to raise awareness to women’s rights issues. Instead of wearing their common clothing, the men were dressed hear-to-toe in bright blue burqas. The same kind of garments Afghan women wear to cover their bodies and most of their faces.
In Afghanistan, the use of the burqa (or chadri) is not required under the current regime. Nevertheless, local feudal lords continue to enforce it in certain parts of the country, especially in southern Afghanistan.
In spite of the lack of laws regulating clothing, many local women feel they must wear burkas to remain safe.
The Kabul protest follows reports of an Afghan performance artist who dropped the burqa and donned a body armor to protest harassment. The performance was not well received at the time. As a result, the woman now claims to fear for her life.
But the burka protest promoted by the group known as Afghan Peace Volunteers had another goal in mind: to bring attention to how Afghan women are treated while covering their bodies. To many, the burqa is a symbol of suppression. While no official regulations are imposed by the current rulers, activists believe women do not feel safe walking on the streets of their own cities if they are not covered.
To one activist, the event was important because it gave men the opportunity to experience what women go through daily.
“One of the best ways to understand how women feel is to walk around and wear a burqa.”
To many of them, wearing the garment felt like a prison.
During the march, protesters also held signs that read “don’t tell women what to wear, you should cover your eyes.” The approach to this issue is being hailed as respectful and courageous by many. Instead of promoting the somewhat new tradition, these men used the protest to tell other men they should stop forcing women to feel insecure.
While many in the country are still not ready to embrace the changes, many believe the country is making progress—slowly. What many fear is that resistance to change in face of this and other protests could slow down the movement, keeping women from breaking away sooner than later.
To some critics of the Afghan Peace Volunteers who were interviewed during the protest, the march was a “western move:”
“Today’s protest against the burqa is a western move. The women should not be deceived by this move because Islam gives women the best rights.”
A 16-year-old girl who watched the protest said:
“We don’t need anyone to defend our rights.This is just a foreign project to create a bad image for the burqa and Afghanistan. They’re trying to make those of us who cover our faces feel bad.”
But not all women who witnessed the protest felt the same. According to an older woman who was also interviewed, her husband and son have both urged her to stop wearing the burqa in the past.
Whether you agree with the protesters or not, the decision is ultimately up to the individuals and local communities. Urging governments to rush to the rescue could cause even more trouble. In spite of the support women who wear the burka seem to get from the general public, others are beginning to break the mold on their own.
Do you think the tradition put in place by the Taliban in the 1990s is something that undermines Afghan women’s self-confidence? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
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