My blue burqa carefully folded up in the corner of the room is a painful and clear reminder of the freedom that I have always taken for granted. To millions of Afghan women, wearing a burqa is not an option, but an obligation so deeply-rooted that it no longer is a burden, but has become a desired shield.
As Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini beautifully puts it in his novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, the burqa provided protagonist Mariam with a sense of protection against stares, while also giving her the freedom to look at anything she wanted without feeling observed or judged.
For me, as a Brazilian woman married to an Afghan who abhors the burqa, the garment is a reminder of everything I take for granted – from being able to acquire education to going to the supermarket by myself without the fear of being harassed or having my or my family’s reputation damaged.
It is also a reminder that millions of women remain silenced by the thin yet suffocating blue fabric.
Taliban Traditions versus Women Empowerment
The streets of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul are a mixture of different ethnic and religious traditions, in which some women wear the burqa while others are content by simply wearing a headscarf and ensuring that only their hands and faces are visible. A younger generation of Afghan girls is seen chitchatting in separated areas of restaurants and walking in clusters to and from schools and universities.
Afghan women are slowly acquiring rights that have been part of the lives of western women for centuries. Despite the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, whether or not to educate girls continues to be debatable within more traditional families. With a literacy rate as low as 24 percent, Afghan women and girls are mostly left behind, and many still believe that females should be homemakers.
What is the point in sending a girl to school if she is to be married and stay at home? This question is often raised by elderly men when their granddaughter’s future is being discussed. While many girls are able to finish school, others either drop out early due to forced marriage or get married soon after graduation. On average, Afghan women are 19.9 years old when their first child is born.
After seven years of marriage with my Afghan husband, I can proudly say that my nieces do not live up to these statistics. They are part of a minority of young lawyers and future judges who are aware of their privilege and are eager to fight for the rights of other Afghan girls.
It would be a slander to say that my nieces’ accomplishments came free of cost. The number of comments they have had to hear mostly from the family’s elders has impacted the entire family. Gossips and badmouthing have required immeasurable strength and willpower from the girls to continue their path to enlightenment.
Feminism in Brazil
Freedom of movement and association is hardly thought of in the West. We come and go as we wish. Women of all ages are seen driving cars, riding buses, and going on with their lives. We hardly realize how lucky we are to have been born in such societies.
Evidently, the fight for women’s rights and equality is far from over. With increasing rates of domestic violence, rape, and many other heinous crimes against women, the Brazilian feminist movement is challenged by religious movements and strong patriarchal sentiment among the population. In the last 14 months alone, over 1.6 million women suffered beating or attempted strangulation in Brazil.
The negative stereotypes of feminists prevent more women from joining the cause. It is true that some branches of feminism use extreme forms of demonstrations, which are seen as offensive for many women. This takes away the significance of feminism and its true importance.
On the other hand, taking for granted all that has been achieved by feminists and all the rights and freedom that we have and enjoy today, is a high form of hypocrisy from the “anti-feminists.” My and previous generations of women have never had to fight to go to school. Our parents didn’t forcefully wed us for money. We own property, and we are entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, and activists. We have access to birth control methods. Brazilian women are empowered in many ways that Afghan women can only dream of.
Again, feminism plays an unquestionable role in Brazilian society, but there is a need to mobilize more women and men. It is high time that women are no longer seen as male possession.
Change must also come from above. For a start, Brazil’s current Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights Damares Alves must be changed immediately. Her statements such as “boys wear blue and girls wear pink” and “men are the heads of the household” enforce the patriarchy even further.
Burqa and Brazilian Society
The burqa that I carefully placed in my room is an object, which I hardly show guests and friends. It would be horrendous to show the burqa to a close-minded individual who would automatically diminish thousands of years of the Persian and Islamic civilization into one artifact.
The burqa should never hijack the beauty of the Afghan culture, the sense of warmth and welcome that I feel every time I step into my Afghan family’s home. The burqa will never cover the beautiful faces of my nieces. It will never cast a shadow on their hopes and dreams, their jokes, their secrets, and their positive attitude towards life, despite having to swim against very strong tides at times.
“I have met the strongest, brightest, and fiercest women that I’ve ever had the privilege to work alongside.”, hear @AletaFMiller’s, UN Women Representative in Afghanistan, message for our Afghan sisters on #WomensDay @NorwayinAfgh @SwedeninAF @EUinAfghanistan @AusEmbAfg pic.twitter.com/YAgzQp4lJr
— UN Women Afghanistan (@unwomenafghan) March 8, 2019
Brazilian women also bear the weight of several burqas. Society has always imposed roles and images on us that are as oppressing as the burqa. The constant quest for the perfect body and the fashion industry imposing clothes and styles on us that do not necessarily fit our bodies or personalities are used as a way to homogenize women.
Women receiving lower salaries than men and being easily laid off their jobs once they become mothers are some of the ways in which patriarchy has imposed itself. Luckily, a new generation of women is standing up – a generation of young women who are showing that self-acceptance is far more valuable than fitting into a standard of beauty. Thanks to this feminist movement, a greater sense of sorority is emerging.
Female empowerment is something that has been achieved by many women; however, the burqa we all wear might be invisible to the point that we do not really notice its presence anymore. Therefore, I will keep my Afghan burqa well-kept and in clear sight, so I can always remember that my freedom is not to be taken for granted.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.