The Professor Who Got Afghan Women To Tell Taliban: #DoNotTouchMyClothes
A former professor in Afghanistan started an online campaign to protest against the Taliban's dress code for female students.
Earlier this week, women from Afghanistan started filling Twitter with images of them donning their colorful, traditional clothes. The photos went viral with a hashtag: #DoNotTouchMyClothes. That hashtag and #AfghanistanCulture soon became a worldwide trend on social media.
It all started with one photograph from Dr Bahar Jalali, a former history professor at the American University in Afghanistan.
The photos, the hashtags and the viral online campaign soon became a global protest- where Afghan women were saying 'No' to the Taliban diktat on clothes.
With its return to power in Afghanistan after almost two decades, the Taliban have been insisting that they are more tolerant and accommodative towards women. For example, they had announced that women can go to universities. However, their diktats on how women should dress and how they should study in gender-segregated classrooms has been nothing less than dejavu for the Afghan women.
Recently, when the Taliban issued a decree calling for female university students to wear clothing that covers their bodies and most of their faces, Dr Bahar Jalali was concerned. She said that the militant group was trying to propagate a certain image of Afghan culture after they issued a strict dress code for female students.
Following this diktat, some images from Kabul showed women wearing long, dark outfits; their faces nearly fully veiled. They were marching in pro-Taliban demonstrations.
Why Are Afghan Women Sharing Photos in Traditional Attire?
Dr Jalali, who was "deeply concerned" following the diktat, said that the Taliban want to "erase the authentic culture" of Afghanistan. She felt she had to do something to counter the narrative. The professor took to Twitter and uploaded her picture wearing an embellished dark green dress.
"This is Afghan culture. I am wearing a traditional Afghan dress. #AfghanistanCulture (sic)," she captioned her photograph.
Taliban, despite reiterating they care about gender rights, has issued a dress code for women which requires them to be completely veiled, with even their hands covered. The Taliban's higher education minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, last week announced a gender-based segregation of universities and made an 'Islamic dress code' compulsory for female students.
This announcement came after pro-Taliban women held a demonstration at Kabul's Shaheed Rabbani Education University. The women were seen wearing black burqas and holding Taliban flags.
"When I saw those pro-Taliban women wearing something that is not at all Afghan attire being marketed by the Taliban as authentic Afghan attire, I knew I had to do something," Dr Jalali said in an interview with BOOM.
It resonated with hundreds of Aghan women. The campaign went viral with other women joining in and sharing their photographs in colourful Afghan dresses. Their bright embroidered dresses, complete with jewelry, that these women shared on Twitter are in contrast with the Taliban's image of women veiled from head-to-toe.
Who Is The Woman Who Started The Campaign Against Taliban?
A strong advocate of women's rights, Dr Jalali has been sharing old pictures of her family on social media to put forward the point that women earlier had the right to choose whatever they wanted to. One of these images is of her mother wearing a skirt at her wedding in 1969.
"As a historian of Afghanistan, I know that our country was very tolerant back then because the government supported modernization. My mom always tells me that she wore short skirts and felt free and secure wearing them," she said.
In 2015, Dr Jalali also started the first gender studies program in Afghanistan in 2015 at the American University of Afghanistan. The programme had so far been successful. But with the Taliban back in power, Dr Jalali is worried about the uncertain future of the programme.
"Gender Studies programs are anathema to the Taliban. I feel a tremendous sense of loss because I know that these types of programs will be discontinued," she said.
How Did The #DoNotTouchMyClothes Campaign Go Viral?
"We are having an impact in raising awareness about what is real Afghan clothing and culture," Dr Jalali said on the popularity of the campaign.
The campaign quickly became popular and Afghan women from across the world shared their images in an attempt to retaliate Taliban's imposition of restrictions on women and their clothing.
"This is our Afghan authentic dress. Afghan women wear such colorful and modest attires. The black burqa never has been part of the Afghan culture," wrote Spozhmay Maseed, a human rights activist, as she shared her image dressed in bright pink Afghan dress.
"Black attire, Burqa, and Niqab are not and never been part of the Afghan Culture," wrote another Afghan woman, Zahra Sultani.
#DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture were some other hashtags under which Afghan women shared their images.