A little more than a month after the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan looks like it’s rolling back in time, more precisely during the regime’s last reign of the late 90s. Many had reservations when the new regime took place, holding on to a sliver of hope that maybe, this time, it would be different. It is now clear that the regime has no intention of keeping its promises, at least, where women are concerned. With the scrapping of the Women’s Affairs Ministry and it’s replacement by the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the message couldn’t be clearer, and gives reason to those who have fled. Those who remain now have to bear the brunt of an increasingly unflinching regime, who claim to be acting according to Islam.
Islam holds the Muslim woman in great regard, having bestowed her with the right to marriage, divorce, inheritance, keeping her name after marriage, having the choice to contribute to the household from her wages, if she wants to, among others. Islam has never claimed that education is meant for males only, and yet, as the announcement of resumption of secondary schools was made last week, no mention was made about young girls resuming their schooling, which means that girls are being “allowed” basic education and those in tertiary institutions are being forced to adopt a dress code decided by the Taliban if they want to pursue their studies. Despite the promise of having women within the government, the exclusively male government leaves no doubt about what they think about women’s place when it comes to policy making for the country. This is a far cry from the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) where women used to actively take part in political discussions even making their marks on the battlefield when the need arose.
While Afghan women took to the streets protesting against their non-inclusion in the government and workforce, another form of protest under the hashtag #DoNotTouchMyClothes is also making its way online with Afghan women from overseas displaying colourful traditional clothes, criticizing black garbs worn by university demonstrators . This protest was welcome by the local Afghan women as well, but a majority was too scared to make their positions on the matter public for fear of backlash. With daily media reports on the successive crackdowns of the Taliban, indignation and concern around the world was loudly spoken about from all quarters, especially concerning the conditions of girls and women.
The imposition of any way of life, based on ideology favoured dogmatically by a group and thrust forcefully on another is bound to meet with resistance, especially if this entails an erasure of identity and a denial of the freedom of the individual. Sadly, this is not the case only in countries with wavering democracies. On the 1st of September, a law came into effect in the state of Texas, banning abortions at 6 weeks, without any exceptions made for cases of incest or rapes, effectively making it impossible for a woman who has just learnt about an unwanted pregnancy to go for an abortion, should she so choose. American women from other states have vehemently stood in solidarity with their Texan fellow women against the proposed law, with justifiable uproar upon the adoption of the bill into law.
In July, the French National Assembly passed a highly controversial bill targeted to combat “Islamist Separatism”, in which, among other prohibitions, is the ban on women wearing headscarves not only for those working in public sector but also banning women younger than 18 from wearing the hijab in public, a prohibition against burkinis, as well as the prohibition of mothers wearing hijabs when they accompany their kids on school trips . Since the announcement of the controversial bill earlier in the year, a movement called #PasToucheAMonHijab (#HandsOffMyHijab) became viral on social media, with prominent hijabis around the world taking a stand against the blatant violation of the freedom of French Muslim women.
However, even if the common denominator among the Taliban, the French proponents of this particular bill and the Texan lawmakers is the imposed denial of freedom of choice, mostly for women, the level of indignation has not been equal. While proponents of women’s freedom celebrated the Norwegian’s women beach handball team for adopting a sartorial mode that is truer to their identities as sportswomen during the recent Olympics, made their ire known regarding the Texan law, expressed furore in solidarity with Afghan women, they have been uncharacteristically timid regarding French Muslim women’s fight for their freedom to wear what they think is best for them according to their beliefs. Are some advocates of activism, if not feminism, selective? Isn’t it the duty of any activist to defend what s/he believes in based on the basic principles of that belief, in this case freedom of choice?
At a time where voices from around the world come together for common causes, now more than ever thanks to information available at global fingertips, it is the opportunity to be honest with ourselves regarding where we stand when we decide to make our voices heard. When we stand up for a cause, are we doing it just to join the crowd, fuelled by the media, or do we do so because we actually believe in the cause? If we do and then find ourselves wavering on one issue close to our cause, are we courageous enough to delve deeply inside ourselves even if the answers we find make us uncomfortable? If we claim to be activists, we should be brave enough to answer these questions and go even further in our questioning, which entails a great deal of honesty and willingness. It is only through a deconstruction of the self that we will be able to understand ourselves, first, to be a better support to others, at a later stage.