Kabul mannequins hooded and masked according to Taliban rules

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Under the Taliban, mannequins in women’s dress shops across the Afghan capital, Kabul…

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Under the Taliban, mannequins in women’s clothing stores across the Afghan capital, Kabul, are a terrifying sight, their heads covered with cloth sacks or wrapped in black plastic bags.

Hooded mannequins are one of the symbols of the Taliban’s puritanical rule over Afghanistan. But in a way, they are also a small demonstration of the resistance and creativity of Kabul’s clothing merchants.

Initially, the Taliban wanted the mannequins to be directly beheaded.

Shortly after they seized power in August 2021, the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue ordered that all mannequins be removed from shop windows or have their heads removed, local media reported. They based the order on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, which bans statues and images in human form because they can be worshiped as idols – although it also dovetails with the Taliban’s campaign to push women out of the public eye.

Some clothing retailers complied. But others pushed back.

They complained that they would not be able to display their clothes properly or that they would have to damage the precious mannequins. The Taliban had to amend their order and allowed shopkeepers to cover the heads of the mannequins instead.

Shop owners then had to balance between submitting to the Taliban and trying to attract customers. Many of the solutions they came up with are on display on Lisi Maryam Street, a middle-class commercial street lined with clothing stores in northern Kabul. Shop windows and showrooms are lined with mannequins in evening gowns and gowns bursting with color and embellishment — all in different outfits.

In one store, mannequin heads were dressed in sacks made from the same material as the traditional dresses they modeled. One was wearing a purple dress decorated with cowrie shells, with a purple hood to match. Another, in a red dress elaborately embroidered with gold, was almost elegant in a mask of red velvet with a golden crown on her head.

“I can’t cover mannequin heads with plastic or ugly things because it will make my window and shop look ugly,” said Bashir, the owner. Like the other owners, he spoke to The Associated Press on the condition that he be identified only by first name for fear of reprisals.

Shopkeepers have to maintain appeal – the economy collapsed after the Taliban takeover and the subsequent cutoff of international funding, throwing almost the entire population into poverty.

Elaborate dresses have always been popular in Afghanistan for weddings, which even before the Taliban were usually segregated by gender, giving women the chance to dress their best in the country’s conservative society. Under the Taliban, a wedding is one of the few remaining opportunities for social gatherings. But with such a strained income, they became less thoughtful.

Bashir said his sales are half of what they were before.

“Buying wedding, evening and traditional dresses for people is no longer a priority,” he said. “People think more about food and survival.”

Another shop owner, Hakeem, molded aluminum foil onto the heads of his mannequins. It adds a certain flare to his merchandise, he decided.

“I made an opportunity out of this threat and ban and made it so that the mannequins became even more attractive than before,” he said.

Not everything can be so detailed. In one store, mannequins in sleeveless robes had black plastic bags over their heads. The owner said he couldn’t afford any more.

Another shop owner, Aziz, said agents from the Ministry of Vice and Virtue regularly patrol shops and malls to make sure mannequins are decapitated or covered. He rejected the Taliban’s justification for the rules. “Everyone knows that mannequins are not idols, and no one is going to worship them. In all Muslim countries mannequins are used to display clothes.’

A small number of male mannequins, also with their heads covered, can be seen in shop windows, suggesting that the authorities are applying the ban uniformly.

The Taliban initially said they would not impose the same strict rules on society as during their first rule in the late 1990s. But they gradually introduced more restrictions, especially for women. They banned women and girls from studying beyond the sixth grade, barred them from most jobs, and required them to cover their faces in the street.

Recently, a woman shopping on Lyceum Mariam Street looked at the hooded mannequins.

“When I see them, I feel that these mannequins are also captured and trapped, and I feel fear,” said the woman, who gave only her first name, Rahima.

“I think I see myself behind these windows, an Afghan woman who has been stripped of all her rights.”

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