This photograph is real. However, this single snapshot is not representative of the culture across all of Afghanistan in the 1970s, and this is not the typical attire that women wore in the country at that time.
In August 2021, shortly after the Taliban had just seized power in Afghanistan, a photograph supposedly showing three women wearing skirts in Kabul, Afghanistan during the 1970s was circulated on social media:
This is a genuine photograph of three women wearing skirts in Kabul that was taken by photographer Laurence Brun in 1972. However, this photograph does not show the way that the majority of women dressed in Afghanistan at the time. The caption of this photograph from Getty Images notes:
Women in Afghanistan, 1972: young students wearing mini-skirts walking down the street in city of Kabul. In the Shar-e-Naü area (the new town), a few emancipated girls wear the mini-skirt, despite the violent critics of the majority of the Afghan people, still attached to Muslim traditions. The Mullah, Muslim religious, do not hesitate to throw acid on the nude legs of the emancipated girl. (Photo by Laurence BRUN /Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
This photograph has frequently circulated on social media, often as the United States was weighing its own involvement in Afghanistan. In 2017, for example, this image was reportedly used to help convince U.S. President Donald Trump that the military's continued presence in the country was worthwhile.
Ali M. Latifi, a freelance journalist based in Kabul, told Buzzfeed News that this image showed a very small slice of life in Afghanistan, and did not represent how the majority of the country dressed in the 1970s. Latifi said:
"That was a very small percentage of privileged people in a few cities ... Nowadays you see a lot of people (including once the US embassy) use pictures of the communist era (not even the kingdom or the republic) to talk about 'miniskirts' as if that in itself is some kind of progress because it's not. There was mass disenfranchisement at that time."
The Ajam Media Collective, an online project that analyzes how the Middle East is represented by Western media, took a deeper look into how this and similar photographs have been shared over the years.
The idea that these photos reveal a time when “women were free” seems to equate “women’s freedom” with miniskirts. This is essentially the same standard, albeit in reverse, used by those who measure women’s freedom in terms of how covered women are. [...]
The problem is not that these images are inaccurate. Indeed, some people in Afghanistan did live the lives of those pictures. But this was a tiny segment of the population, comprising a Kabul middle class that enjoyed the support and patronage of a King who built a bubble of prosperity in Kabul but kept the rest of the country in utter poverty – part of the reason for the 1973 coup and the 1978 Revolution. [...]
The average Afghan was certainly not wearing miniskirts and attending Kabul University, nor were they taking fashionably-dressed vacations to the mountains in imported cars. This was a very small urban elite and middle-class segment of society shown in the pictures of Kabul in the 1970s, and one that did not reflect the conditions of the majority of Afghans.