Should the burka be banned?
A debate is raging in France, echoing discussions which have taken place in this country and around Europe in the last few years. Those who think they should be banned - including President Sarkozy - claim that they are a polical statement rather than a religious one, and oppress women.
Others - such as President Obama, in his Cairo speech - think that women's right to wear the burka in public must be protected; the state has no business telling people what to wear and essential freedom is involved.
An interesting insight, therefore, in this Reuters piece about burkas in Afghanistan. Sales have dropped by as much as 50 per cent since the Taliban was toppled in 2001:
In the gardens of the shrine of a revered sufi poet, cousins Margol and Amirejan Abdulzai chatted together as they walked among rose bushes and marble tombstones.
Margol has lifted her burqa over her head for now because she can relax a bit more in the enclosed and quiet space. Amirejan wore a black chador namaz decorated in swirling white flowers.
"When I wear a burqa it gives me a really bad feeling. I don't like to wear it. My family are not really happy with me wearing a chador namaz, they tell me to always wear a burqa. But I don't like it, it upsets me, I can't breathe properly," 18-year-old Amirejan said.
Margol, who is in her early 20s, said that she was used to the burqa now, having worn it since she was about 15. Her family prefers her to wear it and does not approve of her walking the streets with her face on display.
"My family says I have to wear it, they say the chador namaz is bad. You understand that if you don't wear a burqa and your face is open, people will just gossip about you," Margol said, giggling.
"But it does give me bad headaches, it puts a lot of pressure on my head, especially if it's sewn too tightly," she added.
Her cousin Amirejan said she would rather wear a mantau chalvar and discard her chador namaz if it was left up to her.
"Now they say that Afghanistan is free and women should be able to breathe more, but no, your mother, auntie and family still tell you that you have to wear the burqa ... I just don't like it, I like to be free, not under a burqa."
President Obama, please note the common thread - wearing the burka is not the free choice of these women. They are pushed into it by their relatives (including female relatives).