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Kabul’s female mannequins covered with black plastic bags – A symbol of Taliban rule in Afghanistan

Initially, in 2021, the Taliban Ministry of Vice and Virtue ruled that all mannequins in store windows must be removed or their heads will be severed.

The rights of women in Afghanistan are being hampered since the Taliban government assumed power in the country in the year 2021. Women are forced to follow the mandatory Islamic dress code, they are kept away from jobs and education, and are also barred from playing a critical role in all aspects of life. Now, even the mannequins in women’s garment shops across Kabul have become a terrifying sight as they are being covered with textile sacks or black plastic bags.

According to the reports, the female garments selling shops in the country have been ordered by the Taliban government to cover the mannequins displaying the latest fashion trends. The head-covered mannequins have become a symbol of the Taliban’s puritanical authority over Afghanistan.

Initially, in 2021, the Taliban Ministry of Vice and Virtue ruled that all mannequins in store windows must be removed or their heads will be severed. They based the order on a stringent interpretation of Islamic law that prohibits sculptures and pictures of the human form from being worshiped as idols, albeit it also coincides with the Taliban’s drive to keep women out of public view.

Some clothing retailers agreed back then though a few resisted. They argued that they would be unable to properly exhibit their clothes and would have to ruin pricey mannequins. The Taliban government was later forced to modify its order, allowing the shop owners to cover the mannequins’ heads instead. However, the shop owners were then forced to choose between following the Taliban diktat and attracting consumers.

The various solutions the shopkeepers devised can be seen on Lycee Maryam Boulevard, a middle-class commercial street lined with garment stores in Kabul’s northern outskirts. Mannequins in evening gowns and outfits overflowing with color occupy the store windows and showrooms, all wearing various sorts of head coverings.

Mannequin heads were wrapped in customized bags made of the same material as the traditional garments they modeled at one store. One wore a purple outfit adorned with cowrie shells and a purple hood. Another, in a crimson gown with gold embroidery, looked nearly exquisite in a red velvet mask with a gold crown on her head.

One of the shop owners while talking to Associated Press said that he faces difficulty in following the Taliban government and attracting customers. “I can’t cover the mannequins’ heads with plastic or ugly things because it would make my window and shop look ugly,” he said adding that he needs to keep outfits attractive as the economy of the country collapsed after the Taliban takeover in the year 2021.

He also stated that people now don’t buy elaborate dresses, which have always been popular in Afghanistan for weddings. “Buying wedding, evening and traditional dresses are no longer a priority for people. People think more about getting food and surviving,” he was quoted as saying.

Another shop owner used aluminum foil to cover the mannequins’ heads while others displayed sleeveless gowns on mannequins covered in black plastic bags. One shopkeeper named Aziz said that agents from the Ministry of Vice and Virtue inspect stores and malls daily to ensure that mannequins are decapitated or covered. Rejecting the Taliban’s reasoning for the regulations, he said, “Everyone knows mannequins aren’t idols, and no one’s going to worship them. In all Muslim countries, mannequins are used to display clothes.” 

The women customers on the other hand feel a sense of fear as they look at the hooded mannequins donned in elaborate dresses. “When I see them, I feel that these mannequins are also captured and trapped, and I get a sense of fear. I feel like I see myself behind these shop windows, an Afghan woman who has been deprived of all her rights,” said a woman shopping at the Lycee Maryam Street.

Initially, the Taliban claimed that they would not enforce the severe laws on society as they did during their previous administration in the late 1990s. But they have increasingly imposed greater limitations, particularly on women. They have restricted women and girls from continuing their education past the sixth grade, barred them from most professions, and mandated that they cover their faces when they go outside.

Recently, the Taliban regime barred women from pursuing a university education. The regime issued orders suspending all female students from universities until further orders. “You are all informed to immediately implement the mentioned order of suspending female education until further notice,” said a letter signed by Minister of Higher Education Neda Mohammad Nadeem addressed to all government and private universities.

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