Taleban shuts 'widow's bakeries'
The bakeries sell subsidised bread to poor women

BBC, August 16, 2000
By Kate Clark in Kabul

The Taleban have ordered the United Nations to close down bakeries run by women in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The bakeries sell subsidised bread to 7,000 of the capital's poorest women. At the start of last month the Taleban issued an edict banning foreign agencies from employing any Afghan women outside the health sector.

The UN had been hoping the bakeries would also be exempt. When the Taleban took power here in 1996 they banned all women from working. That left begging and charity as the only options left for women who had no male relatives to support them.

There are tens of thousands of widows in Kabul alone, a result of two decades of war.

Severe restrictions are imposed on women in Afghanistan

The UN set up its widow's bakeries specifically to provide for such women. Earlier in the week members of the Taleban religious police had visited some of the bakeries, threatening individuals with beatings if they did not close.

Now there is a direct order from the Taleban Ministry of Planning that they must shut down. UN officials said they would continue to pay wages to the bakers, but could now do nothing to help the customers. They said most of these families survived on bread and tea. Without the bread, they were not sure what they would do.

Women barred

The Taleban believe all women should stay at home. They do make some exceptions in the state sector - they found it was impossible to run women's hospital wards, prisons or carry out airport security checks without female staff. Aid agencies say they face the same problem.

If they are to keep to the Taleban's Islamic rules which forbid non-related men and women mixing, they have to employ some Afghan women staff.

The order has put the UN in a difficult position. This is a drought year and many Afghans are facing hunger. At the same time, the UN is mandated to reach women as well as men.

Officials are hoping they can work out a solution, but it is still possible the UN will now decide it can no longer work with the Taleban in Afghanistan.

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