#DoNotTouchMyClothes: The Powerful Online Campaign Afghan Women Have Started to Protest the Taliban

Afghan women have started a campaign online to protest the Taliban’s new strict dress code for female students. 

Using the hashtags #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture, Afghan women worldwide are sharing photos of traditional cultural dresses. Multi-colored, handmade and unique, the dresses include embroidery, small mirrors, long pleated skirts, and an array of designs. 

The campaign began following an announcement from the acting Taliban’s high education minister, Abdul Bari Haqqani, for strict new rules for women attending school in Afghanistan. Women will be forced to adhere to a compulsory Islamic dress code of fully veiled black abayas, or niqabs, which cover faces, heads and hands. Universities are being instructed to follow gender segregation as well, separating women from their male classmates and ensuring that the female students are only taught by female teachers. 

Prior to Haqqani’s announcement was a pro-Taliban demonstration at Kabul’s Shaheed Rabbani Education University. Women sat in a university lecture hall wearing niqabs and holding small Taliban flags. Some stated that Afghan women wearing makeup or modern clothes “do not represent the Muslim Afghan woman.” It should be noted, however, that since this demonstration, some are sceptical over the images provided of the weekend’s protest, because of the presence of Taliban fighters alongside the female protestors, and the difficulty of reaching any women who were in attendance. 

The demonstration and announcement sparked historian and gender specialist Dr. Bahar Jalali to take to social media showing her own traditional Afghan dress. A former history professor at the American University in Afghanistan, Dr. Jalali wrote: “This is Afghan culture. I am wearing a traditional Afghan dress. #AfghanistanCulture” with a photo of her in a colorful floor length, full sleeve, green silk dress with maroon fabric across the torso and arms. Intricately embroidered with purple, pink, and green, the dress, while modest in length, shows her face, hair and hands. 

The tweet, which has now been liked more than 21,000 times, garnered quick attention and praise from other Afghan women, who then shared photographs of their own dresses. 

Dr. Jalali told BBC News that she started the campaign because one of her biggest concerns is that Afghanistan’s identity and sovereignty is under attack, and that she wanted to show the world what the real Afghanistan culture and identity is. She urged women to show what the “true face” of Afghanistan really is. 

Across Afghanistan, different regions have unique traditional clothes, but historians and activists have said that the clothes do all share commonality: they are extremely colorful, and include a lot of embroidery and mirrors. 

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