Afghan men don burqas, take to the streets for women's rights

A group of
Afghan men marched
through the capital,
Kabul, on Thursday to
draw attention to
women's rights by
donning head-to-toe
burqas that for many
people worldwide have
come to symbolise the
suppression of women.
The hardline Taliban
forced women to wear
burqas in public during
their rule in the 1990s
and concern is growing
in Afghanistan and
among its allies that
gains for women made
since the 2001 U.S.-led
ouster of the Taliban are
at risk.
The men marched under
a leaden sky, with the
bright blue burqas falling
over their heads down to
muddy sneakers and
boots.
The demonstrators,
associated with a group
called Afghan Peace
Volunteers, said they
organised the march
ahead of International
Women's Day on March
8.
"Our authorities will be
celebrating International
Women's Day in big
hotels, but we wanted to
take it to the streets,"
said activist Basir, 29,
who uses one name.
"One of the best ways to
understand how women
feel is to walk around
and wear a burqa."
The burqa covers the
entire body, with a mesh
fabric window to see
through. Though a
symbol of Taliban
treatment of women, it
remains common in
many parts of
Afghanistan.
The march by about 20
men drew a mixed
reaction.
Traffic policeman Javed
Haidari, 24, looked
bemused and slightly
annoyed.
"What's the point of
this?" he asked. "All of
the women in my family
wear burqas. I wouldn't
let them go out without
one."
A 2013 U.N. report noted
that most violence
against women goes
underreported,
particularly in rural
areas.
Several of the men said
wearing a burqa felt "like
a prison". They carried
signs reading: "equality,"
and "Don't tell women
what to wear, you should
cover your eyes".
Some men stopped to
watch, laughing and
heckling. Some were
confused; others said
women's rights
encouraged prostitution.
Some female passers-by
were also nonplussed.
"We don't need anyone
to defend our rights,"
said Medina Ali, a 16-
year-old student wearing
a black veil that showed
only her eyes and woolly
gloves on a cold
morning.
"This is just a foreign
project to create a bad
image for the burqa and
Afghanistan. They're
trying to make those of
us who cover our faces
feel bad."
An older woman, who
wore a burqa herself,
was less affronted.
"My husband and son
tell me I should take my
burqa off," said Bibi Gul,
who thought she was
around 60.
"But I'm used to it. I've
been wearing this for 35
years.