Afghan Women Tear off Burqas

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Afghan Women Tear off Burqas

News article

By: Pierre Celerier

Date: November 20, 2001

Source: Celerier, Pierre. "Afghan Women Tear off Burqas." France Presse, November 20, 2001.

About the Author: Pierre Celerier works as a correspondent for the Agence France Presse, a worldwide news agency based in Paris.


In 1992, the Soviet backed government ruling in Afghanistan dissolved leading to the outbreak of civil war among warlords rivaling for power. By 1994, the Taliban emerged as a group of mullahs, or Islamic scholars, with a tremendous arsenal and following. Led by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban began to seize power throughout Afghanistan through policies of aggressively attacking opponents and successfully neutralized the rivaling warlords. In 1996, the Taliban captured Kabul, the capital, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban successfully instituted Sharia or Islamic law and the government was led by Islamic scholars. The foundation of the social policies of the Taliban was found in both the Deobandi interpretation of Islamic law and in the traditions of Pashtunwali, or the tribal code of the Pashtuns. Policies dictating social behavior were enforced by the Ministry for the Enforcement of Virtue and Suppression of Vice, or the Amr bil-Maroof wa Nahi An il-Munkir.

Edicts which governed social behavior under the Taliban encompassed aspects of everyday life. The Taliban imposed a ban on the watching of movies, television and videos. In addition, listening to music was banned. Men were ordered not to shave or trim their beards, mandating that the facial hair should protrude from the chin. Those people with non-Islamic names were ordered to change the names to Islamic ones. All people were ordered to attend prayers in mosques five times a day. Certain sports deemed to be un-Islamic were banned. In addition, the wearing of white shoes or white socks was prohibited because the Taliban flag was white.

As a result of these oppressive policies, many nations refused to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. However, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia were the few countries that recognized the Taliban.

In addition to the strict social polices that encumbered the general population, the Taliban placed additional restrictions on women. One of the first acts by the Taliban was to close girl's schools. In addition, women were prohibited from working outside their homes. Hospitals were segregated and only fully clothed women and girls could only be examined by a male doctor. Women were not allowed to laugh in public, let ankles or wrists show, or wear nail polish. In addition, women could not move outside their homes without a mahram (a close male relative such as a father, brother or husband) to escort her. Those women who broke the restrictions placed upon them could be publicly beaten by the religious police under the Department for the Propagation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice. As a result of the strict social policies under the Taliban, ninety percent of women and sixty percent of men were illiterate. No elections or political debates were held. The policies regarding medical treatment resulted in Afghanistan having the second highest maternity mortality rate in the world.

The Taliban also required women moving outside of their homes to wear a burqa. A full burqa covers the entire face and body of the woman, in addition to a net curtain which conceals the woman's eyes. The burqa existed in Afghanistan before the Taliban's rise to power but was not required by law, until they came to power. The policy was enforced by threats and beating by the religious police. The burqa became a metaphor for the oppression felt by women under the Taliban's policies. However, the policy was also economically oppressive. The cost of purchasing a burqa prevented many women from owning their own. Neighborhoods shared a single burqa and women not in possession of the dressing could not leave their homes.

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Prior to the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan, women's rights were protected under the Afghan constitution. In the 1920s, Afghan women were granted the right to vote and the 1960s constitution provides for gender equality under the law. By 1977, women occupied positions in the highest legislative body. In the 1990s, seventy percent of school-teachers were women, fifty percent of government workers were women and forty percent of doctors in Kabul were women. The 1996 edict that prevented women from working reduced many women to poverty after losing their jobs.

With the overthrow of the Taliban by the U.S. backed Northern Alliance, the prospects for women have improved. Following the overthrow, women were invited to participate in talks to form the new Afghan government. The new constitution provides for gender equality, grants women the right to vote, allows women to run for office, and permits women to own and inherit property. In addition, at the December 2003 elections, sixty-four of the 500 seats at the National Council went to women.



Kim, Lucian. "Tenacity under Afghan Burqas." Christian Science Monitor. July 19, 2000.

Thrupkaew, Noy. "Behind the Burqa." American Prospect. November 5, 2001.

Web sites

U.S. Department of State. "Report on the Taliban's war on women." November 17, 2001. <> (accessed May 15, 2006).