A year after the fall of Kabul: I wear a burqa because I am ashamed to beg

The Afghan capital, Kabul, fell exactly one year ago. The Taliban declared the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. A year later, one in two Afghans suffers from severe acute malnutrition. Ethnic and religious minorities are targets of ISIS attacks. Women mourn for their lost rights.

Camila at the bakery before sunrise. Kabul is still asleep. For the past two months, a mother of five has come before dawn in Bharistan to beg bread from customers. She is wearing a blue burqa that she bought second-hand. “I don’t wear it because of a religious conviction or out of fear of the Taliban, but because I’m ashamed to beg,” she says, anonymously from behind a piece of cloth that hides her eyes. “I used to be a domestic worker for a Sikh family, but they have left the country since the attack.” She points to an attack on a Sikh religious temple in June, which killed two, a Sikh fighter and a Taliban.

Camila says today was a good day. She was given five loaves of bread, enough to feed her family for 24 hours. On days when you’re less fortunate, you knock on the doors of houses in the neighborhood begging residents for rice and beans. I am a seamstress by profession. All I ask is a chance to work. And for my 14-year-old daughter to go back to school. The situation was far from ideal under the previous government, but then it was not as bad as it is now.

Dozens of other women are sitting on the sidewalk. They hold a plastic bag and look longingly at the round, flat loaves of bread in the bakery’s display window. This is a daily ritual for the new poor. Shringol’s husband, one of the women, worked for the intelligence agency. He had a decent wage, more than enough to raise their six children. Since Kabul was once again in the hands of the fundamentalists, he has been living in secret. His wife should beg with her head bowed and her hand raised.

He immigrated

In the bakery, six men work up a sweat to bake loaves. A year ago, the price of this loaf of bread was 10 afghani, today it is 20 (about 22 euro cents). “Because of the war in Ukraine and the economic situation in the country, the price of flour has skyrocketed,” says Akrameddin Azimi, holding a scale in his hand and weighing balls of dough. I’ve been a baker for 35 years, but I’ve never experienced this before. Bread has never been so expensive and people have never been so poor. In the past, two or three beggars sat in front of the bakery, and today sometimes up to a hundred beggars a day.

Bread has never been so expensive and people have never been so poor. In the past, two or three beggars sat in front of the bakery, and today sometimes up to a hundred beggars a day.

In August last year, Western forces withdrew early and recaptured the Taliban in Kabul – their opponents refer to the city’s “fall”. Thus, they returned after twenty years of war. Since then, the country has been on the verge of collapse as a result of an economic collapse accompanied by a humanitarian crisis.

According to the United Nations, one in two suffers from severe acute malnutrition. “The situation is catastrophic. The private sector has collapsed. We can assume that 80% of the active population is unemployed,” whispers in the circles of the Ministry of Economy.

there are many reasons. The suspension of international finance, the US confiscation of Afghan state assets deposited in US banks, and the distrust of private investors, who are reluctant to do business with a pariah state. Today, even the Taliban want to leave the country. “If I speak English, I will immigrate to the United States,” says a young fighter at the Char-e-Kunh checkpoint. He means it.

bomb on the shrine

While smoke still billows from the ashes of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the people of Kabul are experiencing some security once again. Even opponents of the Taliban must admit this, because the fighting with Western-backed loyalists is over.

However, this “restored security” is also gradually becoming a thing of the past. In recent months, the capital has witnessed a series of attacks, which were claimed by the Afghan branch of the Islamic State. Khan Aqa Khalifa Sahib, a sanctuary of Sufism, is still licking his wounds. At the end of April it was destroyed by a bomb. According to the Taliban, it killed at least ten people among the worshipers who gathered for Friday prayers. According to the representative of the shrine, the death toll was previously about 50.

“I saw a fireball…” said an eyewitness at the entrance to the mosque, where guards were patrolling with Kalashnikovs. “No, sorry,” interrupts the white-haired man. We can’t talk. If you want more information, you should contact the authorities.

In early August, the ten days of Ashura, a special period for Shiites, were celebrated. These attacks were accompanied by a new wave of deadly attacks in western Kabul. They targeted the Hazara, an ethnic group from Central Asia. The United Nations documented 2,106 civilian deaths between mid-August 2021 and mid-June 2022, of whom 700 were killed and 1,406 injured. Most of the victims were in ISIS attacks targeting ethnic and religious minorities in the country.

hair braiding

Behind a gilded curtain that closes the entrance, there are six imitation leather chairs in front of the large mirrors. On a low table sits a pair of false eyelashes next to a half-used makeup kit. Since there is no classroom for a year, Farhanaz (18 years old) and Osaiba (13 years old) come daily to this beauty salon, located on the ground floor of an apartment building in Saleem Karawan. I felt depressed when the schools had to close. Then I immediately began to work here, to occupy myself, ”says the younger. She wears a green jacket and smiles shyly. Asebah dreamed of becoming a pilot. Now she is braiding her hair.

“I miss school a lot. My favorite subject was math,” she says, looking at the floor. “If the Taliban don’t reopen schools, we will forget everything we ever learned.” One of the first measures taken by the new rulers was to close secondary schools for girls. The pretext was that they first needed time to create a “safe environment” for their upbringing. A year later, schools are still closed.

If the Taliban don’t reopen schools, we will forget everything we ever learned.

“There is no guarantee that they will ever reopen,” Farahnaz said. “They lied and said they would do it many times, but nothing happened.” She was not able to finish her last year of secondary education and therefore cannot start postgraduate studies. If the lockdown continues, there will be no more female students in Afghan universities soon.

Studies offer prospects for work. This is why going to school is so important. Since its closure, some girls have started working in beauty salons, just like me. Others simply stay at home. I hope we can go back to school sooner or later, otherwise we will have to emigrate to a country where we already have a future,” says the young woman, applying some face powder to the client’s cheeks.

Mouth Cover for Survival

Afghan women have lost all the rights they had gained over the past 20 years. Their freedom of movement is limited, as is their access to the labor market. They are discriminated against on a daily basis and can no longer go to school. The women did not disappear from the streets, but hid themselves in wide, dark clothes that covered their bodies to the ankles.

Some women wear masks not to protect themselves from the coronavirus, but to cover their faces without being forced to wear a niqab or burqa. In the land of the Taliban, this is a new survival strategy.

We demand the international community to put pressure on the regime. “We are convinced that she has this power,” said Margali Faqirzai, a 45-year-old activist. Other countries should oblige the Taliban to restore women’s rights, such as education, work, and participation in cultural and political activities. What we ask of the rest of the world is not to recognize the system as long as it does not give us those rights. It is usual that an unemployed former civil servant no longer ventures out into the street without a job Muharram, a personal companion. It’s her 14-year-old son.

Supported by Fund for the Press The Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles.

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