Hayat Ensafi is a local Afghan journalist used to seeing a lot, but the sight of a bare-legged woman in the capital of his country shocked him. Not enough to render him useless – he snapped the photo and captured the unbelievable image. He then shared it online and it became all the sensation.
Why wouldn’t it? Afghanistan is a predominantly Muslim country with strict Shariah law (radical Islamic legislation) that doesn’t allow women to appear in public unless fully clothed. Interacting with men not related to them either by blood or marriage can land them in a lot of trouble – even death.
“I was shocked,” Hayat Ensafi told BBC. “I knew I had to catch this special moment because I never saw a woman here walking down the streets like this.”
He approached her but she wouldn’t talk to him, he said.
The fact that she was not wearing any shoes (just a pair of purple socks) is something that can mean a lot. She may be in trouble, or trying to get away from a situation that made her leave that way.
No one, however, can be more surprised and shocked than the people of Afghanistan and countries that live under the Shariah law or have knowledge of it.
If identified, the lady in the photo can be apprehended and punished – the act of bravado may even cost her her life.
At the moment, however, she is the main topic of discussion.
“We have seen thousands of people talk about it,” BBC’s Syed Anwar in Kabul said. “Not only on social media but also in the streets people are talking about her, wondering if she is mentally ill or if she is protesting."
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“It’s risky for women to walk bare-legged in Kabul,” he added. “At the same time, some people have argued that [dressing like this] can pave the way for Taliban propaganda.”
Things were tough under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even the once progressive city of Kabul came under severe restrictions and women couldn’t even venture out. Left without husbands and male relatives, thanks to the war, many faced starvation. Things have been getting better in recent years but not fast enough.
Women like Colonel Jamila Bayaz, a district police chief in Kabul, and Azra Jafari, Afghanistan’s first female mayor, are rare and not without risk. But these are brave women setting precedent for a progressive Afghanistan. The county is far from being a safe one for its women.
In a time when many fear what the fate of the women in Afghanistan will be when the NATO forces leave and the Taliban have a chance to re-assert themselves, incidents like these show people have a mind of their own and may not be ready for the radical Islamists to wreak upheaval in their lives again.
Any bright ideas that the Taliban or Taliban-influenced fundamentalists may have, they should realize it is not going to be easy.
Provided that Kabul’s lady in red is not just some fluke or part of some propaganda campaign, she is a beacon for a changing Afghan society.