Afghan youth rights activist Wazhma Sayle says she was shocked to see a photograph online, apparently of women dressed in black all-enveloping niqabs and gowns, staging a demonstration in support of the country’s new Taliban rulers at Kabul University.
The 36-year-old, who is based in Sweden, later posted a photograph of herself on Twitter dressed in a bright green and silver dress captioned: “This is Afghan culture & how we dress! Anything less than this does not represent Afghan women!”
“It’s a fight for our identity. I don’t want to be identified the way Taliban showed me, I cannot tolerate that.
“These clothes, when I wear them, speak for where I come from,” Sayle said in a telephone interview.
Other Afghan women overseas have posted similar pictures, striking a chord in Kabul.
“At least they are able to tell the world that we, the women of Afghanistan, do not support the Taliban,” said Fatima, a 22-year-old in the Afghan capital.
“I cannot post such pictures or wear those kinds of clothes here anymore. If I did, the Taliban would kill me,” she added.
Many women said they believed the purported protest, which has appeared on social media and in Western media, was staged and that several people dressed in the head-to-toe black burqa gowns were men. Reuters has not verified the authenticity of the pictures.
“It is good our women (overseas) were able to protest about it,” said Khatima, another young woman in Kabul.
“The reality is, the burqa is not representative of women in Afghanistan,” she added.
When the Taliban was in power two decades ago, women had to cover themselves from head to toe.
Those who broke the rules sometimes suffered humiliation and public beatings by the Taliban’s religious police.
While the new Taliban regime has promised to allow women more freedoms, there have been reports of women being barred from going to work, and some being beaten in recent weeks for protesting Taliban rule.
Universities have installed curtains inside classrooms to segregate men and women.
The online campaign with hashtags such as #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture began when U.S.-based Afghan historian Bahar Jalali tweeted to criticise the black garments worn by the university demonstrators.
“No woman has ever dressed like this in the history of Afghanistan.
“This is utterly foreign and alien to Afghan culture,” she said.