Bare-faced women remain a rare sight in Kabul...

A young woman attends an NGO-run adult literacy class to catch up on years of lost education.

Photo: Still Pictures /

Farishta, an employee in the Ministry of Communication, struggles behind the veil. She feels in danger, even walking alone to the market, without a burka. Nonetheless, she despises the oppression: ‘I told my husband several times that I want to throw the burka away, but he is afraid of extremists and Mujahideen who still have power and can do lots of things that no one would challenge.’

Kabul, while still under tight restriction, is the most liberal region in Afghanistan. In the provinces like Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar many suffer kidnap, torture, rape and forced marriages at the hands of local commanders.

Women nationwide blame not only their Government for its unwatchful eye, but the international community for its indifference. Some find themselves longing regretfully for the days of the Taliban – at least then there was stability, even if it was unjust.

‘During the Taliban, widows could choose a partner for the next phase of their life,’ said Najia, 35. ‘For the last two years, women in the provinces have been denied that freedom. It is as if we are regressing instead of moving forward.’

Many Afghan women expected change when the interim and transitional governments began functioning. But it now seems that these institutions were created just to present a good face to the international community.

Female Afghan NGO workers are anxious, following a declaration by extremists demanding that women be barred from such employment.

‘I won’t dare publish certain truths or allow anyone to print my photograph,’ said Farida, 27, who has worked for an NGO for the past three years. ‘I am afraid for my family because if the extremists find that I am working here, they might try to hurt them.’

Security is a big issue for all Afghans. One young girl, who narrowly escaped being abducted by robbers when they attacked her family home in Mazar city, commented: ‘During the Taliban, I could stay home alone with my younger brother and feel safe. Now I am afraid even when my father is present.’

But March 2003 saw a ray of hope with the establishment of The Voice of Afghan Women Radio. Radio can reach illiterate women – two-thirds of the Afghan female population. By participating wherever they can in social, cultural, economic and political affairs, Afghan women are increasing the volume of their voice.

Afghan women demand peace. Without peace, there can be no education. Without education, there can be no equality. Without equality, there can be no justice.

By Jamila Mujahed, Chief Editor of Malalai Women’s Magazine and broadcaster on the Voice of Afghan Women Radio.

New Internationalist issue 364 magazine cover This article is from the February 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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