Women in Afghanistan Loved Fashion Until Taliban Took Over

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Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)
Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)

Tommy Yang – An Afghan female entrepreneur who designed her own clothing line shared her experiences with Sputnik about what life was like for women in Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power in the country.

Born in Afghanistan two years before the US invasion in 2001, Sofiea, who wished only to be identified by her first name, grew up in a country where young girls enjoyed a lot of freedom and loved to chase the latest fashion as much as their Western peers.

“After 2001 when the Taliban was ousted from Afghanistan, girls and women living in the country, especially those living in the capital city Kabul, experienced big changes. For young girls in Afghanistan, when we watched a movie or saw famous stars, like Indian actresses or Hollywood actresses wearing beautiful dresses on the red carpet, we tried to make similar dresses for ourselves. Some girls even became fashion models,” Sofiea told Sputnik during a video interview.

When she had the chance to visit a number of foreign countries, Sofiea saw women there wearing traditional dresses from local cultures. That gave her the idea to start her own business by designing and selling dresses inspired by traditional Afghan culture.

She started her own fashion brand named “Sofiea Design” and sold different kinds of traditional Afghan dresses for women which she designed. Her online shop’s Facebook page attracted over 3,000 likes and she served customers from all over the country, and even had some overseas clients.

“I started my business with two other Afghan women in June 2020. The business was going very well and we sold many dresses to women from all over Afghanistan. We even had foreigners from the US or European countries sending us emails and asking about our dresses. We made good money,” Sofiea said.

Unfortunately, Sofiea’s successful business venture lasted for just seven months, when she was forced to leave the country in January, because her husband received death threats over his previous work as a reporter.

LOST ACHIEVEMENTS

Sofiea and her husband first escaped to Turkey before obtaining a visa to relocate to France in April.

Speaking without fear for her safety from her apartment in Paris, Sofiea said she was very sad to witness the kind of changes that have taken place in Afghanistan after the Taliban (banned in Russia) took over the country in August.

“It’s been more than one month after Afghanistan came under control of the Taliban. As Afghan women, we’ve lost all the achievements we had during the past 20 years. Now, the Taliban is trying to enforce new rules and restrictions on women in Afghanistan,” she said.

Despite its claims of respecting women’s rights and freedoms, the Taliban began to introduce a series of restrictions on Afghan women shortly after it seized power. The Taliban replaced the Women’s Affairs Ministry with a new ministry for the “propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice.” And the acting mayor of Kabul just announced over the weekend that almost all municipal jobs held by women would be given to men.

“They [the Taliban] don’t know anything about women’s rights. I had a lot of plans for my future. I wanted to make my future better. But it’s impossible under the Taliban,” Sofiea said.

BURQA NOT AFGHAN TRADITION

One of the signature restrictions the Taliban introduced was the kind of full-length veil which completely covers women’s faces, known as burqa.

Sofiea argues that the burqa is contrary to Afghan tradition, and started a social media campaign by posting a picture of herself dressed in a traditional Afghan dress for women next to a picture of a woman fully covered under a burqa.

“This is a traditional #Afghan women’s cloth. Not this [pointing to an emoji of a person in burqa],” Sofiea wrote in the post on Twitter.

Sofiea and her husband also posted pictures of themselves in traditional Afghan attire and used the hashtag #DoNotTouchMyClothes to raise awareness on this issue. The young couple’s efforts received over 6,000 likes and almost 600 retweets on Twitter.

From Sofiea’s perspective, Afghan culture and women in the country experienced transformative changes during the 20 years after 2001. She argued that face coverings like burqa or hijab are no longer an integral part of Afghan culture.

“During those 20 years, women in Afghanistan were able to show Afghan culture to many other countries in the world. They showed what traditional Afghan clothes looked like. They’re not hijab or burqa. Afghan women never wanted to wear them voluntarily. They were mostly being told by others such as the Taliban or their family members to wear such clothing,” she said.

From Sofiea’s point of view, she never believed burqa was required under Islam.

“This is just my personal view. I never preferred such facial covers, especially those that cover the face completely. I don’t think it’s an Islamic thing to do. Under Islam, we have hijab. But it’s not like you have to cover your face fully or your hands. This is not required under Islam. It’s just restrictions introduced by the Taliban or other conservative Islamic governments in other countries such as Iran or Pakistan,” she said, while wearing a Levi’s T-shirt under a denim jacket without a veil.

Sofiea noted that women in countries such as Iran or Pakistan have also been protesting and demanding more freedom.

As for Sofiea herself, despite the freedom she enjoys in France, she shares grave concerns over the liberties of other Afghan women who must live under the Taliban’s rule. She said she would return to Afghanistan only when the country is no longer under the control of the Taliban.

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