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Afghan Men Don Burqas To Support Women

Male Afghan women's rights activists pose for media as they wear burqas to show their solidarity to Afghan women ahead of International Women's Day in Kabul on March 5.

The sight of burqa-clad women is common in Afghanistan. Burqa-clad men, not so much.

So when dozens of male activists took to the streets of Kabul on March 5, donned in the body-covering attire, the idea was to attract attention and raise awareness about violence against women.

The protest, which comes ahead of International Women's Day on March 8, has raised eyebrows in the deeply religious and male-dominated country, where women face major obstacles in obtaining their rights despite hard-fought inroads made in the past decade.

The protesters, most of them men, gathered at the offices of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission in Kabul and held posters reading, "We say 'no' to all forms of violence." Some shouted that women should not be forced to wear the burqa when they leave their homes. One group chanted, "Don't tell women what to wear, keep your eyes away."

The demonstration comes after a female Afghan artist and activist made waves recently after wearing metal armor to protest street harassment in Kabul. Videos of Kabri Khademi marching through the capital, surrounded by groups of baffled men, made the rounds on social-networking sites Facebook and Twitter in late February.

Street harassment of women is common in Afghanistan, and domestic and public abuse can include beatings, verbal insults, and even acid attacks.

In a report released last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, "unchecked sexual harassment has been a significant obstacle to women's employment and participation in public life." It added that "harassment on the street is a daily experience for women and girls, and women who have sought help from the police in response to harassment and even threats have typically received no assistance."

At a March 5 event ahead of the upcoming International Women's Day, President Ashraf Ghani spoke out against violence against women.

-- Frud Bezhan