Bold and Beautiful; Not Black

By Ama H.Vanniarachchy | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 6 2021
Look Bold and Beautiful; Not Black

By Ama H.Vanniarachchy Ceylon Today Features 

Afghanistan is an ancient land with a rich legacy of culture. After the Taliban seized power once again this year, discussion about the Afghan culture and traditions were back in the limelight. Among the many such discussions, the focus on the plight of women was prominent.

Many were worried about the future of women, their rights, and their education. Meanwhile, it was natural to think about their attire. It is because attire is among the many firsts, that could control women. 

By controlling what they wear and how they wear it and decide what to wear, the life of a woman is kept under control. Hence, many extremely patriarchal and conservative societies emphasize how women should dress. In Afghanistan, when the Taliban took over power before, women were forced to wear clothes chosen by the Taliban. 

Afghan women were forced to wear clothes covering their bodies, hair, and faces, against their consent. However, once again as things have changed towards the worst, many fear that if the women will be forced to wear such clothes again. Therefore, Afghan women step forward and created an online campaign with hashtags such as #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture to criticize the strict dress code under Taliban rule. 

Afghan youth rights activist Wazhma Sayle stated that she was shocked to see a photograph posted online, of women dressed in black niqabs and gowns, all covered, staging a demonstration in support of the country’s new Taliban rulers at Kabul University. 

According to Aljazeera news, Wazhma Sayle later posted a photograph of herself on Twitter dressed in a bright green and silver dress captioned, “This is Afghan culture and how we dress! Anything less than this does not represent Afghan women!” Aljazeera further says that many other Afghan women overseas have posted similar pictures, striking a chord in Kabul. The #DoNotTouchMyClothes posts highlight the beauty of Afghan culture and Afghan women›s identities as expressed through traditional garments. 

According to an article published in My Modern Met, Ruhi Khan, a researcher at the London School of Economics, states that the protest “is not just a protest of 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.” The women behind the #DoNotTouchMyClothes posts are driving home two important points: that one’s culture is precious, and that what a woman wears should be her choice and no one else’s. 

According to these pictures, these traditional Afghan female attires are colourful, bright and beautiful. They are like the rainbow. Wearing them makes the women happy and confident; unlike the doomed black all-covered dress. Also, what is the purpose of wearing such clothes? The most vicious part is that these extremists try to connect their ideologies to the Afghanistan culture saying that it is a part of their tradition. 

This is wrong. According to history and archaeology, the early Afghan culture was more liberal, and far from what the extremist’s today depict it to be. 

What did Afghan women wear in the past? 

The location of modern-day Afghanistan was a fusion of many cultures and beliefs during ancient times. There was Buddhism, Hinduism, and the influence of the western world. There are various tribes and human races living here and as this was located across the silk route, the culture was rich with many cultural traits of the east as well as the west. 

They generally wore dresses like large cloaks with long sleeves as an adaptation to the natural weather and climate. These attires are made of two parts, once again as an adaptation to the natural environment. According to the remaining sculptures and paintings, the clothes were decorative, colourful and they used to heavily adorn themselves with jewellery. 

The fabric was colourful and decorated with thread and beadwork. Women and men both covered their heads with hats or clothes, once again as an adaptation to the natural environment. This was to protect themselves from the scorching sun and the dust. At the earliest times, this was nothing to do with culture, religion or as a means to control women. These head-covering clothes were decorative and they did not cover the face.

 The jewellery was worn by women to many body parts such as the neck, ears, hands, fingers, and forehead. However as extremism spread in the area, the early culture was dominated by these new religious beliefs. Women were oppressed. The habit of covering the heads to protect themselves from sun and dust became a religious practice and forced upon women. 

In modern times, before the Taliban, controlled Afghanistan women wore western fashions and enjoyed being more modern in attire. However, that was shunned after the Taliban took over power. Once again, the majority fear if the women might be forced to hide their liberty, feminine beauty, and happiness behind a doomed black veil. Moreover, one cannot force women to wear what they want. It should be a personal decision. Also, to force culture is backward thinking. 

There is no need to carry forward any norm or practice or tradition merely because it is a part of a past culture. It is sensible to analyse how progressive such practices are and then decide if they should be followed or not. The discussion about Afghan women’s attire is one such thing. Also, what is wrong with women dressing up highlighting their feminine beauty? If it is their free choice, there should be no restrictions on it. What women should wear should be a sole decision of her, not the decision of the males of society. 

If men think that by wearing uncovered clothes, by wearing beautiful clothes, a woman is sinning, in reality, the true sinner is the man who thinks so. The man sins through his eyes and his mind and by controlling others, he sins further. Choosing what to wear by her own will and desire is also about a person’s right to bodily autonomy

By Ama H.Vanniarachchy | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 6 2021

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