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RESPONSE TO TERROR | WOMEN'S RIGHTS : COLUMN ONE

An Anger Behind the Veil

Taliban rule has confined most Afghan women to head-to-toe shrouds and home. Many see U.S. action as their best hope for a freer life.

October 05, 2001|ROBYN DIXON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"It is a garment that came to Afghanistan only 150 years ago. It is not Islamic. It came from India and was worn in the cities to show the gentrification of the husband," Gross said. "It was worn by people entering the middle class."

She has met many women from cities and villages who say they would burn the garments if they weren't forced to wear them.

Elyas Zarra, the education minister, says the garment is both a physical and psychological barrier.

"The [burka] stops women from doing something better with their lives. They all feel angry. They feel unhappy," he said. "If they take off the [burka], they feel free. They can see. They can do something better."

But he says that, in the northern part of Afghanistan, it is a choice made by individual families--at least by the men--most of whom still support the burka.

As for rising up against the Taliban, Gross said: "You have to understand--they are destitute women. I'm not sure how much they can organize themselves. But mobilizing them and empowering them, it doesn't take much."

Afghanistan lost many of its men in 22 years of war. If peace ever comes, Gross says, she is sure women will play a big role in rebuilding the country.

"With military men, it's difficult to bring them to the way of peace," she said. "Reconstruction is a peaceful activity. I think the women will be a major force for peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan."

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