The Afghani burqa in retreat ... for now

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The decline is most noticeable in Kabul, the capital, where women began joining the work force and adopting Western dress soon after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the puritanical Taliban. Demand for burqas appears strongest in the provinces, where family pressures and the power of conservative warlords continue to enforce a stricter Islamic code.

In the countryside, where kidnapping and rape are a constant threat, a burqa gives its wearer the safety of anonymity.

But in Kabul, say clothiers, demand is declining as young women go to school and take office jobs – pursuits that were impossible during the six years that the Taliban ran the country. But women’s rights activists caution against reading too much into the burqa situation.

They say it’s the least of their problems as they continue to battle such issues as domestic violence and forced marriages.