‘The difference between black and blue’

A young women wearing a black burqa which has a separate piece of cloth to cover the head and face in order not to impede the vision of the person wearing it

Looking into the cultural and social dynamics of the conservative community, a change is visible from one generation to the next – that of choice in burqa. But what does this change from the blue to black burqa signify?

The blue-coloured burqa, also referred to as the ‘shuttlecock’, is native to Afghanistan, however, the growing hold of the Taliban in the northern areas contributed to its spread in Pakistan as well. The reason: to increase the level of purdah for girls and women.

“When females wear the blue burqa, you can’t distinguish if she is a 12-year-old child or a 60-year-old grandmother,” says journalist and researcher Ali Arqam.

Women wearing the Afghan-influenced burqa, more commonly known as the ‘shuttlecock burqa’

The blue burqa completely covers the body as a single piece of cloth, compared to the black burqa which is usually in three pieces: the coat, the head covering and the niqab.

In covering women with a single piece of cloth a number of practicalities are left ignored. For example when women step out to buy groceries or run errands and need to use their hands to pick up or carry anything they would have to lift their burqa and hold the items under it, which can be very inconvenient.

Windblown burqa

Further, the blue-coloured light weight cloth flutters, especially during strong winds, and has to be held tightly, sometimes with both hands. With restricted vision and both hands used to hold the burqa in place it leaves women with little, if any, options to be able to do anything else.

In comparison the three-piece coat-styled black burqa has long sleeves and a separate piece to cover the face revealing only the eyes. This makes its easier for the wearer to manoeuvre themselves in public without impeding vision. The black burqa is also usually made of heavy fabric which does not allow it to flutter in the wind easily, although this does make the attire much warmer to wear. Despite this setback, the advantages to the black burqa are many.

“I have only tried to wear my mother’s blue burqa once at home and when I did I almost immediately took it off,” says 14-year-old Marium who belongs to a Pakhtun household and wanted to only share her first name…