Women behind the lens: ‘Mum and her sister weren’t wearing headscarves. They looked happy’ | Women’s rights and gender equality

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that applies sharia law. Since its implementation in 2006, the Aceh government has made it mandatory for every Acehnese Muslim woman to wear the hijab.

I remember when, soon after the law came into force, the sharia police raided the area outside our house, approaching every woman who wasn’t wearing the hijab in public and handing out head scarves. My mother was shopping at the time and came home with a headscarf. From that moment on she wore the hijab. I was eight at the time and couldn’t understand why she was being made to wear one.

This year, recalling that experience led me to look back at an old album of family photos taken before the implementation of sharia law. I found a picture of my mother and aunt at my aunt’s wedding in 1982. They were not wearing headscarves. My mum wore a dress and my aunt a traditional wedding outfit; her hair was braided. They both looked happy. I became curious about how women dressed before these rules were imposed and started looking through my mum’s old clothes. They represented a time when women were free to express themselves.

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When I found my mum’s old white lace kebaya (traditional blouse) I used it to frame the photo from the wedding. Unlined lace clothing was commonly used by Muslim women at that time. The image is part of a series that combines fabric and old photos from family archives and questions the identity of Acehnese women who are seen as a passive symbol of Islamic collectivity in Aceh.

Riska Munawarah is a documentary photographer based in Aceh, Indonesia. Her photos are on show at the Jogja Fotografis festival in Yogyakarta, Java, until 11 September. Follow her on Instagram at @riskamunawarah