“When I see myself in the mirror, it gives me a bit of peace of mind,” she said by phone from Kabul. “We are in a prison.”
Outside, the Taliban has started to impose dress codes and restrict the movement of women in public places. The militant group has said women should wear “Islamic dress” — a term with no set definition. On Saturday, at a pro-Taliban rally at a Kabul university, women wore all black and full-body burqas, a style similar to that of women in Persian Gulf states.
That prompted Koofi and other Afghan women to join an online campaign against the Taliban by sharing pictures of colorful and intricate outfits traditional to their regions, tribes and ethnic groups.
Accompanied by hashtags such as #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture, women posted images of bright and elaborate patterns, seeking to counter the Taliban narrative on what Muslim women in Afghanistan have traditionally worn.
The campaign was started by Bahar Jalali, a former history professor at the American University in Afghanistan.
Jalali told the BBC she started tweeting out pictures of herself in Afghan dresses because she felt that “Afghanistan’s identity and sovereignty is under attack.”
“I wanted to inform the world [that] the attires that you’ve been seeing in the media,” in particular those worn by women at the pro-Taliban rally, are “not our culture, that’s not our identity,” she told the BBC.
What angered Koofi about the images was not that the women were wearing all-black body and face coverings — which is their right if that they want to, she said — but that the Taliban was not giving women a choice.
While many women in Afghanistan do wear a burqa or “chadori,” which the Taliban has urged women to wear, they have typically come in different colors, such as blue, and have been part of a spectrum of clothing styles.
Afghanistan encompasses a diverse range of tribes and ethnic groups — including Pashtuns, Tajiks and Hazaras — each with distinct cuts and designs developed and passed down through generations. One shared element is an emphasis on colors and intricate patterns, particularly for ornate dresses made by hand and worn for special occasions such as weddings and holidays.
“These colors were the smell of home for me,” said Farkhondeh Akbari, a PhD candidate at the Australian National University researching the Taliban. “It gave you a sense of identity.”
Akbari’s family is from Daikundi province in central Afghanistan. In her area, many of the seamstresses were poor women who used their work as “a form of self-expression,” she said.
“You could see their fantasies in these creations,” she said.
The Taliban made women cover themselves from head to foot, among other restrictions, when the group last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. During the two-decade U.S. military campaign — which ended with the U.S. pullout and swift Taliban takeover last month — clothing restrictions loosened in many areas, especially Kabul.
This time around, the Taliban has insisted that it will be more tolerant toward women. So far, it has formed an all-male government, dismissed women from many jobs and violently broken up women-led protests.
After decades of war and repression, Ruhi Khan, a researcher at the London School of Economics who studies feminism in South Asia, said clothing in Afghanistan is often connected to how safe women feel. Styles have shifted in a conservative direction in times of violence and displacement.
“It all depends on where you are going, who you are meeting,” she said.
While Afghan culture “is all about joy and color,” that is not the image Khan said is usually seen by outsiders, who tend to form an impression of “Afghan” versus “Western” dress.
The online campaign “is not just a protest of the Taliban’s imposed dress, which they think is Islamic, but also against the West’s notion of what Afghan women are supposed to wear,” said Khan.