Under Taliban, Afghan women long for country 'they used to know'

Tue, 18 Apr 2023 9:38 GMT
Barred from studying or working, 3 women narrate how life has been in Afghanistan since Taliban returned to power.
Under Taliban, Afghan women long for country 'they used to know'

Barred from studying or working, 3 women narrate how life has been in Afghanistan since Taliban returned to power.

An Afghan woman, Nasrin Faramarz, clings to the memory of devouring Mexican pizzas at the King restaurant in western Kabul. Friends by her side, she would laugh and joke with them about relationships and life.

“That time was good. We could do anything. We could go anywhere,” she said, talking about the period before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021.

Today, Faramarz feels like she is trapped inside her home.

Women in Afghanistan are imprisoned in their houses. They don’t have the right to go to their school, university, other recreational centers ... We’re always at home.”

Since the Taliban came to power, women in Afghanistan have been restricted from public spaces, barred from education and work, and prohibited from travelling alone. Recently, the Taliban banned women from working with the UN.

For Faramarz, who became an activist after the current government stripped women of their rights, things are tougher. Women who protest and talk openly about violations, are intimidated, arrested, or even killed, she says.

A pink stole over her head, Faramarz covers her face with a surgical mask as she speaks to Anadolu on Skype.

“I’m not safe in my country. I have to hide my identity because I might be arrested or killed by the Taliban.”

In her thirties, the young woman is in hiding, constantly changing houses. The last name that she uses, Faramarz, is her alias, she reveals.

Associated with a women’s rights initiative known as the Purple Saturdays movement, she discusses how Taliban insurgents once fired at a protest she and others were holding against the persecution of the Shia Hazara minority.

“I was afraid that I would be killed that day,” she says.

Faramarz has a master’s degree in criminal law and used to teach university students before the Taliban banned women from universities.

Her own dream of being a lawyer is also all but dead. “I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to defend people’s rights. But I know that isn’t possible.”

Not alive, just breathing

In the home of another woman, *MJ, the walls are plain and blank, and rooms are almost empty with furniture at a minimum.

“I am now selling things in my house as we don’t have money. I have sold a camera, tripod, and furniture,” she tells Anadolu over a WhatsApp video call.

A photojournalist by profession, she has been out of work for many months. Restrictions on media houses, a decline in foreign correspondents in the country, and a work ban have led to her grave financial situation.

MJ has worked for reputable news organizations in the past and often thinks of migrating to other countries, and joining friends who moved to France, for instance. But, the perilous sea journey and dangerous routes, have so far stopped her from taking the daunting step.

At home, however, her prospects of pursuing her profession are dim.

She mentioned how the Taliban broke her camera when they came for a “house inspection,” after having taken her GoPro camera in another instance.

“Photography used to give hope. But now, they’ve taken away my camera.”

MJ misses the times when she and her family could easily go outdoors. Her eldest daughter keeps asking her why they can no longer go to the park.

“We aren’t alive. We’re just breathing. I have two daughters and I’m very worried about their future,” she says.

Uncertain future

The future of women in Afghanistan is an “unknown,” according to prominent activist and journalist Mahbouba Seraj.

“It’s very dark, it’s very confusing. It’s not very clear at all.”

Speaking to Anadolu on Zoom from Kabul, Seraj said women are not just depressed, but emotionally and spiritually crushed under the current government.

She too remembers better times in Afghanistan, such as her childhood in Kabul, when the capital was much smaller.

“The way we used to spend our vacations together when we used to go to different places, the parks and people’s houses around ... They had these villas, these gardens ... the air was absolutely crystal-clear and clean. The water was clean.”

Seraj, who was born in Kabul, returned in 2003 after 26 years of exile.

Despite the crumbling infrastructure, she saw hope had returned to the country.

“Things were broken, things were falling apart, buildings. But then, there was hope in the air that things were going to change and this Afghanistan was going to become, you know, the Afghanistan that they used to know.”

Over the coming years, women would be able to pursue an education, work, and travel freely. But at the same time, she feels that there was an atmosphere of detachment from reality.

“The life of a woman in Afghanistan right now is living in a prison ... And by the Taliban government, that’s what they’re allowed to do. They can be in their houses and the four walls of their house, mostly in their kitchen. If they are a woman, if they are girls, they can be just another room, sitting there and just sitting there and sitting there and sitting there. That’s it.”


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