Miserable life of educated Afghan women under Taliban rule
The News International, October 17, 1998
By Arshad Ayyub

PESHAWAR: "It was the wee hours of September 27, 1996 when Radio Kabul broke the news of the Taleban getting control of the city. This announcement was followed by another one, more alarming, specially for womenfolk, restraining them from coming out of their homes and the performance of their duties," Mrs Habibi was saying, and after a moment's pause continued, "since that time life in Kabul has undergone a tremendous change with most of the natives deserting the city."

Mrs Habibi, who was a newscaster and announcer with the Radio Kabul and who enjoyed great fame for her captivating voice, was recollecting her past, with her eyes glowing with enthusiasm. "Thrice, I was declared the best announcer and newscaster," Mrs Habibi announced. But as she was commenting on the prevailing situation in her city, nostalgic and pensive she was looking and tension was visible on her face.

"When I go out shopping, I find myself among a mob of strangers," she said in a grief-stricken voice. Mrs Habibi is only one character of the tragedy being enacted in the peaceful life of Kabul city since the time Kabul fell to Mujahideen in 1991. Persisting war that has afflicted the city and its surroundings since then has left devastating effects on the lives of the locals, many of whom have preferred to migrate to those places which could be secure from the continuous fears of rocket attacks and infighting among different armed groups.

Although, there is peace not only in Kabul but the whole of Afghanistan under the Taleban, the war-ravaged Kabul city presents the look of a ghost city with destroyed buildings, broken roads, child beggars in rags all around and a grief-stricken general population.

On asking as to what was her first reaction to this announcement regarding the ban on continuing her job, Mrs Habibi, while trying to hide the intensity of her feelings and reaction against the edict, only said, "I had no other option but to obey the directives."

To a query whether she along with other affected persons registered any protest with the government, she said, "in the beginning unlike other working women the salaries of those working in information ministry were stopped. Against this we protested and took the matter to Amir-ul-Mominin, who later on ordered the restoration of the same," she added.

Commenting on the problems faced by the Afghan women in the present situation, she said that apparently there was no change in the lives of uneducated and household women and the situation was problematic only for the educated working women.

"The situation has not brought anything new for common women but the educated and working ladies are exposed to many new challenges which they are quite unaccustomed to," remarked the lady, adding common women are only concerned about financial matters as their men and sons have no employment opportunities and the prices of daily use items were on the increase, making it difficult for them to make both ends meet.

Asked what irked her when she was regularly getting monthly salary, Mrs Habibi said in a prompt reply that money alone was not the problem and she along with other ladies was only concerned about her career. "We want to make the authorities realise that getting salaries is not the real issue. The problem is that skills, experiences and the technical know-how the women have would go down the drain if the same situation prevails," she added.

To a query she said some signs were visible to foresee a change in the hardline policies of the Taleban militia. "At the very outset, they were staunchly opposed to women working in any field but some flexibility is visible now as they have allowed the lady doctors to resume their duties, which is a very positive development," she said. She also showed a memorandum with the signatures of 12 professional women to be taken to Amir-ul-Mominin to apprise him of their hardships. She was hopeful when asked if she saw any prospects of improvement in the situation, "being a Muslim it is my belief that pessimism is sin and I am more than hopeful about the change," added Mrs Habibi.

When asked about any social activity in life, she said there was none, adding her children, two sons and a daughter all of them married were settled in foreign countries. "Life here is quite boring without any next of kin around. The only hobby, which is at the same time the necessity as well is cooking," she added.

Asked what made her stay back despite the sufferings and hardships, she observed a pause as if having no reply and then, her maiden gesture spoke the whole thing. She turned to her husband sitting nearby but keeping mum, which suggested he was not willing to leave Kabul. "I witnessed the rise of Kabul and now I want to be witness its fall as well," replied Mr Habibi, one time governor of Kabul but now living a solitary life.

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