November 2, 2003
Bombay starlets pout in posters and sequinned gowns dangle in wedding boutique displays. But even in this fast-modernising capital of three million, most women wear a burqa when they step into the street, and the most risque fashion statement is a flash of netted ankle beneath a black skirt.
Nearly two years after the Taliban’s defeat, women have returned to work and girls are back in school, but feminist ideas remain suspect. So when Vida Samadzai, 25, a leggy Afghan-born brunette who attends the University of California, appeared on TVs on last Friday as a contestant in a Manila beauty pageant, striding in a fiery red bikini with a Miss Afghanistan banner, Afghan officialdom was aghast. The last time an Afghan woman competed in any beauty contest was 1972.
In short order, the Minister of Women’s Affairs — a woman — denounced Samadzai’s actions as ‘‘lascivious’’ and ‘‘not representing Afghan women’’. And a senior official of the Supreme Court and the Kabul scholars’ committee condemned her swimsuit appearance as ‘‘unacceptable and unlawful in Islam’’.
Officials of the Afghan government, picking its way though a minefield as it seeks to promote women’s rights and other modern values without alienating devout Muslims, said they feared Samadzai’s behaviour could damage the cause of women’s emancipation in Afghanistan and even democracy itself.
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‘‘I think it was a mistake,’’ said Jamila Mujahid, an editor of a women’s magazine. ‘‘We want freedom for Afghan women, but not freedom of this nature,’’ she added.
Samadzai, who could not be reached for comment, told BBC and news agencies in Manila several days ago that she wanted to challenge the international image of Afghan women as hidden and submissive. She said she would like to show that ‘‘we are talented, intelligent and beautiful. We are one of the people who can make a difference in this world.’’ But numerous women in Kabul said they disapproved of her semi-nude appearance and found it offensive to Afghan culture.(LAT-WP)
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