The World from Under my Mom’s Burqa

Jan 10, 2012   //   by Hameed   //   Human Rights, Women in Conflict  //  4 Comments

Hav­ing seen my mom wear a burqa to school and out­side home for sev­eral years, I wanted to see how it feels to wear one. I took my mom’s ‘mobile jail’ and put myself in it for a minute. I felt so bored and depressed. Every­thing seemed blurry and I had no periph­eral vision for that one minute. I felt dizzy when I took it off. Then I gave my mom a very long hug to show my sympathy.

The world from under my mom’s burqa:

Burqa and Its His­tory
Worn by women in some Islamic soci­eties burqa is an envelop­ing gar­ment that has a small eye grid through which women can see. It cov­ers them from head to toes. They wear it when they go out of home.

Cloth­ing that is rec­om­mended to Mus­lim women in Islam is called
hijab. Hijab cov­ers a woman’s arms, legs, chest and hair. By cov­er­ing her “beau­ties” (as referred to in Islam) a woman main­tains her mod­esty. These parts of a woman’s body should be viewed by her hus­band only. Burqa is a stricter ver­sion of the cloth­ing that Islam rec­om­mends for women.

Photo credit: Chesi-Foto CC

Women in Pak­istan have been wear­ing burqa for over 400 years. “In Pak­istan, women are told that men are wolves and women are sheep.” Quoted from this arti­cle. A sim­i­lar per­cep­tion exists in Afghanistan. Since men and women are taught this from a very young age, most men do act like wolves and women as sheep.

Photo by Lauras Eye

Burqa in Afghanistan
Burqa has been part of the Afghan cul­ture for 200 years. How­ever, it’s been more com­mon and strict in cer­tain times. Under the Tal­iban regime, women in Afghanistan were forced to wear a burqa. A lot of fam­i­lies could not afford it as it was expen­sive. More time, effort and mate­r­ial is used to make a burqa. One burqa costs $10-$14 in Afghanistan. Some women wore a chador, which is made out of a large rec­tan­gle of cloth. Wrapped around most of a woman’s body, a Chador is pulled across face with a lit­tle open­ing for eyes.

The Tal­iban did not restrict women’s cloth­ing only but they also required all men to wear a white hat, keep their hair short and leave their beards long.
After the Taliban’s regime, most women in large cities of Afghanistan grad­u­ally switched to Chador. Chador is a bit more com­fort­able than burqa. More than ten years after the fall of Tal­iban, a lot of women still wear a burqa. In spite of all these lay­ers that they wear, a male mem­ber of the fam­ily escorts women when they go out of their homes. It’s a lot more com­mon in rural areas where most of the pop­u­la­tion is une­d­u­cated. There, women look at their hus­bands as their own­ers. Some men won’t allow their women to have a photo on their voter’s ID card. A male mem­ber of their fam­ily brings their card home for them for a fingerprint.

How beau­ti­ful in this?

In Afghanistan, there is a sense that the extrem­ists are watch­ing every­thing you do. In many parts of the coun­try, there is a con­stant fear that the Tal­iban would retal­i­ate against women who do not wear“modest clothes”. The Tal­iban poured acid at a group of girls’ faces as they were on their way to school in Kan­da­har. These stu­dents were wear­ing descent clothes but they were not burqas.

Besides the Tal­iban, some women feel uncom­fort­able not wear­ing it because the rest of the com­mu­nity would judge them. For exam­ple, my mom, though she is OK with my other sis­ters not wear­ing a burqa, she wears it herself.

Why a burqa can­not pro­tect women or even prove mod­esty?
Do all these lay­ers and escorts really pro­tect women from other men or does that iso­late and degrade them?
Toes and ankles are the only parts of a woman under a burqa that you can see. Even then some men would still try haul­ing insults at them as they walk by.

My uncle in Pak­istan was try­ing to flirt with a girl under a burqa he described as sexy. She went ahead and acted sug­ges­tively before him. He com­pli­mented on her nail pol­ish. After an hour of flirt­ing, the “sexy girl” inched closer to him and gen­tly tossed back her burqa over her head.
My uncle blushed and hid his face with his hands when he saw his forty some­thing years old cousin stand­ing in front of her. He was extremely embar­rassed. Then my aunt went on shar­ing the tale with the rest of the fam­ily and rel­a­tives.
A burqa nei­ther pro­tects women from other men, it only iso­lates and degrades them, nor is it a proof of mod­esty. Not to say that it pre­vents them from enjoy­ing a nice breeze.

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  • M Mon­teog­bay Hill

    very infor­ma­tive. great insight

  • Édouard Di

    burqa = stu­pid oppression

  • Bambi

    I always won­der why the men don’t wear sth stricter.. it’s always THEM who can’t stop har­rass­ing women. As you wrote, they are the wolves.. how could those women do any­thing ‘seduc­ing’ under all those gar­ments? Would be great if they spent all their ener­gies focus­ing on bet­ter­ing their family’s lives instead of bark­ing all the time.. Well, ALL MY RESPECT to Your lovely Mother, I wish I had the chance to talk to her to learn about her sto­ries. Thank you for the inter­est­ing writing!