Women in Afghanistan have many different perceptions of beauty. Some believe it is a quality that provides an understanding of delight, or best meaning, or real satisfaction. But men in Afghanistan have a different concept of female beauty and its value.
They mostly think beauty in a woman means being simple and plain. They value women who stay home and cover their heads with scarves.
This change in attitude about beauty and women is the consequence of the war and the Taliban years. My mother told me that before the war women did not wear headscarves and they were free to wear short skirts. At the same time, other women wore the burka.
After suffering the long years of war came an interminable five years under the Taliban regime when women had no value. Our lives were of no importance and over time our suffering and the restrictions changed the way men saw us. We came to symbolize something to them that we had not symbolized before. Since then our value has changed some, but not much.
Today men say beauty is about simplicity. Now young women hide their bodies—their beauty—from men and from society; through the years of their youth, young women do not allow any attention to be paid to them. When they get married, their husbands expect them to be simple. A modest wife is the most valuable, they say. A wife should not indulge in fashion, she should tend the home.
Even with all this pressure to be simple and to hide themselves, some women recognize that their true value is their understanding of delight or real satisfaction. They believe they should be allowed education and respect and they should be able to live freely. But it is difficult to get many people, especially men, to agree with this.
So, Afghan women have come to believe their value comes from being modest in their dress, knowing how to wear a scarf so it covers their head properly, not using make-up, and keeping society happy. Doing their house chores, respecting what their husbands say, and paying attention to the cultural and tradition customs of our country makes them beautiful.
The men and women of Afghanistan have different ideas about European or Eastern women regarding beauty. They can accept it when women in Europe do not cover themselves because they say they practice a different religion and that each person is free and should act based on their beliefs.
But the real problem is that Afghan men spend too much time interpreting what our religion says about women and their value. The men focus so intently on defining the value and beauty of women, they ignore that Islam gives equal rights to both sexes.
We women are beautiful as we are, and freedom to wear a good-looking dress would only make us more beautiful! Opinions differ, but many people would prefer the freedom to dress the way we did thirty years ago. In any event, we should be equal to men in choosing to wear what we want, considering our Islamic values.
Photo of Sarah Rahmani, a fashion designer working in Kabul, by Ash Sweeting.