The return of the burqa in Afghanistan: NPR

Women wearing a burqa (left) and a niqab (right) walk down a street in Kabul on May 7.

Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP via Getty Images

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Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP via Getty Images

Women wearing a burqa (left) and a niqab (right) walk down a street in Kabul on May 7.

Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP via Getty Images

I bought a burqa in a marketplace while covering the war in Afghanistan. When I pulled the hood at the top over my head to see what a woman wearing a burqa might see, it emphasized how that faded blue cloak could be a garment of oppression.

The burqa made women anonymous. It was stuffy, sweltering and limited their view of the world to just a few inches. It muffled their voices behind a veil.

A few weeks later, we reported on the first football game at Kabul Stadium after the Taliban’s withdrawal in 2002. The Taliban had banned sports, but paraded prisoners in the stadium and executed them for alleged heresy.

I can’t remember the score of that first football game after the Taliban. But I remember every few minutes a woman would get up from her chair and throw off her burqa. Crowds cheered and often burst into tears as they saw that women who had witnessed the Taliban were now free to stand up and be seen.

But this week, just nine months after the Taliban recaptured control of Afghanistan and pledged to respect women’s rights, their Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced that all women should be covered from head to toe, preferably in a burqa. , and always accompanied by a man.

This is not just a fashion edict. The Taliban has also closed schools for girls and women after 6th grade. They forbid women to travel without being accompanied by a male chaperone. And if a woman tries to travel alone, walks out alone, or shows her face to the world, a male guardian will be held accountable.

The burqa obscures women’s faces, revealing how they are now officially downsized in Afghanistan.

We reached a woman whose family we know in Kabul, who once told us that she had despaired of the isolation and denigration of women under the Taliban rule that she had tried to end her life. She survived, now works as an interpreter for refugee groups and says there have been a few small protests by women in Kabul in recent days.

“But I know the world moves on,” she told us from Qatar. “The international organizations will provide aid to prevent people from starving, and will not challenge the Taliban. But they want to make women invisible.

“We’ve actually been pushed back two decades, two centuries. I’m terrified of what will happen next,” she says, of an Afghanistan in which the burqa — and all the Taliban’s efforts to remove women from public life — have no remnants. the past more.

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