Afghan stereotypes.

Philosophy: A Word to the Girls

Sparing long explanations, it is simpler to give you a clear analogy: for a woman to walk in Afghanistan with bare shoulders, bare knees, in tight pants and a sleeveless shirt is like showing up on New York streets in a thong, on high heels, and nothing else. That is not possible. In many senses not possible. That would end in exactly the same way in both examples.

It is irrelevant that Afghanistan is an Islamic or supposedly backward country. A thong and high heels is an attractive, convenient attire, but how come nobody wears it in public in Western countries? Is it because they are Christian or supposedly advanced? Or is it because it is inappropriate and offensive according to the local standards of decency?

A second analogy: proper clothes but with bare hair is like wearing a mini-skirt with no underwear in the West. You will not get arrested for that, but you will for sure have problems with people around you. They will not rape or beat you up in Afghanistan, but the former is possible in Pakistan, and the latter may happen in Iran.

Is it not even so much about your personal safety — in the end, it was your choice and you will pay for it in full — as about psychological comfort of people around you. You will look like an outrageous slut, like someone dressed in a thong only would look in your home country. Why would you offend mothers walking with their children? Who would be quite ashamed by your appearances. You should not get even a trace of an idea that you have brought enlightenment or challenge, or have given an example. In the first place you have offended people around you. People who have not done anything bad to you.

A properly dressed Pakistani woman. This is a shalwar qamiz. A foreign woman does not have to wrap her head like this — in this particular case it is a very religious Pakistani woman. For a foreigner it is enough to cover her head with a scarf that we see on her shoulder here.

The best choice in clothes is a Pakistani shalwar qamiz — a long dress with matching pants. And a scarf to cover your head. It looks feminine and sexy enough. Lots of designs. Also, if you come through Iran, you can get some of the Iranian fashions since they will work too.

If for some reason you just have to wear European clothes — for example, if you fly directly to Kabul and cannot buy anything local in advance, — you can safely forget about dresses and skirts since you probably will not wear pants under them, and a skirt long enough to completely cover your legs is impractical, and a skirt not long enough is culturally unacceptable. Therefore, it will be pants. Loose pants, not jeans. For the upper body you need something with long sleeves. Your breasts should not obviously protrude from underneath it. If they do, mask them with a scarf. Pakistani women do it in style: one end of a scarf covers hair, and another one goes from one shoulder to another, covering breasts on the way.

All these considerations are equally valid for Iran and Pakistan.

Now from fashion questions to your behavior.

As you will see yourself, most Afghan women, especially in the cities, wear a burqa — an outfit that covers their body completely, including a face. This has and had nothing to do with the Taliban. As a result, men do not see female faces or female forms with the exception of their mothers, sisters, and eventually wives. Naturally, even if you wear a shalwar qamiz and a scarf, you still attract a lot of attention by your open face. A Western analogy is a woman in a mini-skirt, with panties this time, but with no bra under the shirt. Not necessarily a slut but somewhat probably a slut.

Another moment to consider is that the Afghans who have not been abroad draw their picture of the world from TV and magazines. Which is more or less true for a citizen of any country who has not been abroad. Naturally, they see Western women as somewhat loose. Looser than the Afghan ones, at least. On the other side, it is a suspicion, not a belief. And there are such cultural factors as respect towards women in general and towards guests in general. Getting all this together, nobody will harass or assault you, but many may try to verify their media-induced stereotypes by starting up a conversation with you or inviting you somewhere.

That is, the situation is not as bad as in Turkey where the locals on the streets can openly propose sex to you, or in Egypt where men touch your butt in crowded public places. People in Afghanistan are both polite and have high moral values. However, if you encourage them — purposely or because you are naturally stupid, — they will be delighted to screw you. But then that is true for any country. Therefore, the advice is clear here: if you do not want exactly that, keep the distance. Be friendly, yes, but keep the distance.

We say all this with a single female tourist in mind. At least she should not visit local men in their homes or bring them to her hotel room. You also should not shake hands with men — local women do not do that, but local men know that foreign women do shake hands, so it is their favorite way to “have a feel”. Just say “no” to any extended hand, and they will understand. By the way, holding hands, hugging, not to mention kissing in public places is completely unacceptable for the opposite sexes in Islamic countries regardless of who these two people are for each other.

When you ride in a taxi, a man will not sit near you. Remember that when traveling between the cities. Often it means that you have to pay a double fare for the front passenger seat which often accommodates two paying passengers.

As for women who travel with male companions, it is much simpler for them. You are a husband and a wife, and all questions should be addressed to your husband. Although, if you go for a walk alone, all the abovementioned issues reappear. If you still do not have a male companion by the time you are ready to come to Afghanistan, find one in internet travel forums or in Tourist Inn Motel in Peshawar — these places have enough men who go to Afghanistan. A single female with an uncovered face, especially if she is stupid enough to smile to people around, will immediately gather a huge crowd, not so much excited as shocked one.

Now a piece of important statistics. In the last eleven years five foreign women have been raped in Afghanistan. “Only five” or “the whole five” — that is up to you. It is probably a daily number for New York or Moscow. On the other side, Afghanistan has much fewer foreign women than New York or Moscow. On yet another side, it must also be noted that these eleven years include time before the Taliban when the country was mostly lawless.

So, these are the conclusions. Be friendly as a person and keep the distance as a woman. Travel with a male companion. Everything should be fine.

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