In market in Kabul, Aref is doing a booming trade. At first glance, the walls of his store appear to have curtains with pleats of blue cloth. On closer inspection, dozens and dozens of blue burqas hang like specters from hooks on the wall.
As the Taliban draw closer to Kabul, women within the city are preparing for what lies ahead. “Before, most of our clients were from the provinces,” says Aref. “Now it is the women of the city who buy them.”
One of these women is Aaila, who is haggling with another merchant over rapidly rising burqa prices. “Last year these burqas cost AFS 200 [£2]. Now they are trying to sell them to us for 2,000 to 3,000 AFS, ”he says. As fear has risen among Kabul women, prices have risen.
For decades, the traditional Afghan burqa, sold mainly in shades of blue, was synonymous with the identity of Afghan women around the world. It is usually made of thick fabric and is specifically designed to cover the user from head to toe. A net cloth is placed near the eyes so that the woman inside can look out through the net, but no one can see inside. It was strictly enforced during the Taliban rule in the late 1990s, and if one was not worn in public, women could face severe public flogging and punishment from the Taliban “moral police”.
After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, although many continued to choose to wear the burqa in fulfillment of religious and traditional beliefs, its rejection by millions of people across the country became a symbol of a new dawn for the women of the country. country, they were able to dictate what they wore themselves back.
Today, there are burqas on the streets of central Kabul, but women also dress in a variety of different styles, many of which mix traditional materials with colorful, modern patterns and fashion inspiration from across the region.
“Afghan women are some of the most naturally stylish women in the world,” says Fatimah, an artist and fashion photographer. “When you go to the streets of Kabul today, you see this amazing mix of different fabrics and nods to centuries-old traditions mixed with very modern styles and inspirations. It is this beautiful creative spirit that was full of hope for the future. “
Now the seemingly unstoppable advance of the Taliban has once again seen women remembering life under the militants’ rule remove the burqa from dusty warehouses and closets.
Last week in the city of Herat, as Taliban forces massed in the city, older women like Fawzia, 60, were amassing reserves for the younger women in her family.
Fawzia remembers the reality of living as a woman under the Taliban two decades ago.
“All of us older women have been talking about how difficult it was to be a woman in the old days,” she said. “I used to live in Kabul then and I remember how they beat women and girls who left their homes without their burqas.”
Miriam, a young woman, also went shopping after she said her husband forced her to go out to buy a burqa. “My husband asked me to change the type of clothes I wear and to start wearing the burqa so that the Taliban will pay less attention to me if I am outside,” she said, unhappy with the events.
Days later, these women are already under the control of the Taliban after the city of Herat fell to militant forces on Thursday. Shortly after the fall of the city, a statement by the Taliban was circulated online and among Herat citizens, women were informed that the burqa was now mandatory in all public spaces.
In Kabul, a sense of pain and panic has overwhelmed women in the Afghan capital. With two-thirds of the population under the age of 30, the majority of women here have never lived under the control of the Taliban.
In some households, the burqa has sparked divisive intergenerational conflict. Habiba’s parents, 26, beg her and her sisters to wear a burqa before the Taliban enter the city, but she resists.
“My mother says we should buy a burqa. My parents are afraid of the Taliban. My mother thinks that one of the ways she can protect her daughters is by forcing them to wear the burqa, ”she says.
“But we don’t have a burqa in our house, and I have no intention of getting one. I don’t want to hide behind a curtain-like cloth. If I wear the burqa, it means that I have accepted the rule of the Taliban. I have given them the right to control me. Wearing a chador is the beginning of my prison sentence in my house. I’m afraid of losing the achievements that I fought so hard for. “
Habiba is a college student, with her whole life ahead of her. There are already reports of what the Taliban are doing to women in areas they now control: restricting their freedom of movement and seeking out those who have led public life.
Habiba says that she, like many women in Kabul, is sick with worry about what lies ahead.
“I stay up late at night, sometimes one or two in the morning, worrying about what will happen. I fear that because I am rejecting the burqa, I will soon have to stay home and lose my independence and my freedom.
“But if I accept the burqa, it will have power over me. I’m not ready to allow that to happen. “
Many young Kabul women feel the same conflicted sense of despair and defiance. Amul, a model and designer, has worked for years to establish a small business and now sees that it is headed for destruction.
“My whole life has been about trying to showcase the beauty, diversity and creativity of Afghan women,” she says. All her life, she says, she has struggled with the image of the Afghan woman as a faceless figure in a blue burqa. “I never thought I would wear one, but now I don’t know.
“It’s like my identity is about to be erased.”
Now more than ever, Afghan women need a platform to speak for themselves. As the return of the Taliban stalks Afghanistan, the survival of Rukhshana Media it depends on the help of the readers. To continue reporting for the crucial next year, he is trying to raise $ 20,000. If you can help, go to this crowdfunding page.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism