End of war brings relief and despair to Afghan women

Charikar (Afghanistan) (AFP) – The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August ended 20 years of fighting – and brought relief to many women – but the harsh restrictions imposed by the new government are also a source of desperation.

Here’s a look at how the lives of three ordinary women have changed with the Taliban’s return to power.

The mother

In a hilltop village outside Kabul, children scurry between the low entrances of mud-brick houses as Friba settles into what she calls a more peaceful life now that the alien forces are gone.

“Before that, planes were in the sky and bombing,” said the mother of three, who like many Afghans goes by only one name.

The Taliban’s victory over former US-backed government forces has dramatically reduced the violence that has killed tens of thousands of Afghans over the past two decades – the majority in rural areas – and left far too many afraid or unable to leave their villages.

Afghan mother Friba says she has a more peaceful life now that foreign forces have left the country Wakil KOHSARAFP

Foreign forces were often accused of disrespecting local customs as successive governments were plagued by corruption.

Having lost several relatives in the conflict, Friba was also in a state of near-permanent worry about his family members criss-crossing the country in search of work.

“We are happy that the Taliban have come to power and that peace has returned,” she told AFP in her one-bedroom apartment in Charikar, Parwan province.

“Now I’m sitting at home, more relaxed.”

But while security has improved dramatically, the struggle to maintain a home remains the same.

“Nothing has changed, nothing at all. We have no money,” she explains.

She and her husband depend on casual farm labor and help to get by, including from the new Taliban leadership.

“I worry about my daily expenses… I worry day and night,” she says.

“But it’s better now.”

The student

Zakia was in her third year of an economics degree at Kateb University in August when her professor announced that the Taliban were at the city’s doorstep.

“My hands started shaking. I took my phone out of my bag to call my husband (…) and he slipped on the floor several times,” she told AFP.

It was the last time she was in class.

Although private universities reopened last year – and some government institutions resumed classes last week – many aspiring graduates have dropped out.

For Zakia, the challenge is twofold.

Paying school fees would be a major challenge as her husband’s government salary was cut drastically by the impoverished new leadership.

But her family’s fear of the Taliban infantry patrolling the neighborhood is the main obstacle preventing her from returning to class.

Zakia, an economics student, had to drop out of university after the Taliban took power
Zakia, an economics student, had to drop out of university after the Taliban took power Wakil KOHSARAFP

Zakia has only left the house a handful of times since August to limit his interaction with extremists.

“(They) say I might get arrested by a Taliban, maybe they’ll beat me up,” she said.

“It would be a huge disgrace for people to say the Taliban beat someone’s daughter.”

She is desperate to see how close she was to graduating in a country where the education system has been devastated by decades of sustained conflict, disproportionately affecting girls.

“I would look at other people who were illiterate, who weren’t getting an education, and then I would look at myself and look at how my family supported me,” she said.

“I had a feeling of pride, to have been lucky.”

There is hope for the 24-year-old, who is one of hundreds of Afghan women to benefit from a US-accredited online People’s University scholarship.

She goes online almost every day to study business administration, a chance to feed her mind between sleepless nights.

But thoughts for the future – especially for her young daughter – overwhelm her.

“How am I going to raise him in such a society?”

The breadwinner

Roya used to rush to a studio in central Kabul every day, ready to take on dozens of female students eager to learn the embroidery techniques she mastered.

Her earnings paid household bills and school fees for her children’s education, while in the evenings she designed and made dresses and blouses for a shop she hoped to open with her daughters.

“I know all types of sewing. Anything anyone wanted I could do,” she told AFP from her home in Kabul.

“I felt strongly that I needed to work, to be a strong woman, to support my children and raise them through my sewing,” she adds.

But the foreign-funded training school where she taught closed the day the Taliban entered Kabul, and she hasn’t seen any of her students since.

Embroidery teacher Roya lost her job after the Taliban took over
Embroidery teacher Roya lost her job after the Taliban took over Wakil KOHSARAFP

Now she spends the long days at home with her sons and daughters, who once studied or worked in offices.

Her husband is now the sole breadwinner, earning just a few dollars a week as a part-time security guard.

“I am helpless,” Roya said.

“I’m so scared we can’t even go out on the town or to the bazaar.”

With the help of Artijaan, a social enterprise that employs female artisans to create handicrafts, she earns some money from occasional orders for embroidered tablecloths.

But her closets remain filled with unsold elegant dresses and jackets that she once took pride in designing intricately.

“I’m sitting at home with all these hopes and dreams,” she sighs.