FACT CHECK: Were Women Allowed To Wear Mini Skirts In 1970s Afghanistan?
To challenge the notion that women in Afghanistan have always worn burkas, media outlets sometimes circulate photos from the 1970s, and earlier, that show Afghan women wearing western clothing, including mini skirts.
After The Washington Post reported that one such photo was presented to President Donald Trump during strategy sessions on the war in Afghanistan, The Daily Caller News Foundation investigated whether Afghan women really wore contemporary clothing in the 1970s.
Some women did wear contemporary clothing, including mini skirts, in Afghanistan in the ’70s. While Afghanistan has granted equal rights to women at different times throughout its history, these photos of women wearing more liberal attire do not represent how most Afghan women dressed in the 1970s.
The 1960s and 1970s were times of greater freedom for Afghanistan as the government established equal rights for women. Some women not only wore contemporary clothing like mini skirts but also enjoyed greater autonomy including the ability to travel alone, attend a university and work outside of the home.
But not all women of that day experienced an expansion of rights. “These were urban, elite women – it doesn’t mean that every woman in Afghanistan was wearing a knee-length skirt,” Heather Barr, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told TheDCNF.
Tribal populations were considerably more conservative, and by the mid-1960s about 90 percent of Afghans still lived in rural areas. Despite the government reforms, families continued the Islamic practice of purdah, which limited women’s contact with men and required them to wear burkas in public.
Cities like Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, were more liberal, but not everyone in the city embraced western customs. “There was tolerance for a range of different lifestyles,” Barr said. “But there were also plenty of women in the ’60s and ’70s – even in urban areas – whose lives were quite governed by purdah, who were not going out to study, were not going out to work.”
Resistance to reform in Afghanistan has historically come from rural parts of the country. For example, tribal leaders ousted a moderate king in 1929 after he enacted a series of reforms granting women protections and equal rights.
The government reinstituted women’s rights in the 1960s with the introduction of a new constitution, and certain western values in Afghanistan continued into the 1970s. The Soviet Union toppled the government in 1979, withdrew less than a decade later, and the civil war that followed gave rise to the Taliban in 1996.
The Taliban instituted a strict version of Sharia law, but the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 brought about another revival for women’s rights. Today, women make up about 28 percent of the Afghan parliament, and about 40 percent of children attending school are girls.
Although reforms have historically been slower in rural areas, there are signs of progress. “I think things are changing,” Barr said. “I think there’s growing acceptance of girls education in particular.”
Challenges still remain for women in Afghanistan, including access to health care, domestic abuse and employment discrimination. Mini skirts may symbolize freedom for women, but Barr says clothing is not nearly as important as the more daunting challenges Afghan women face.
“It’s a point Afghan women’s rights activists make all the time, which is that Afghan women face many, many problems, and having to wear a burka is really among the least of them,” Barr told TheDCNF.
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