|Kabul: 2:30 AM      |
Welcome to Kabul:Reconstructions. You can follow the information below, which has been gathered from a
number of sources by a number of participants (click on the names at left for bios), to reconstruct your
own picture of events in Kabul since this site was launched on March 8th, 2003 and, in a sense, since the
reconstruction of Afghanistan began somewhere in the winter of 2001-02.
Some of this information has been provided in response to specific questions submitted by visitors like you. Please note that this section of the project is now maintained as an archive and has not been updated since 2005. Click here to ASK A QUESTION.
Arian Mouj Sharifi
Two women's stories (London Times, NPR)
I found these interesting because of their atypical (for Western media) focus on the particular experience of two specific and individual women instead of the general "plight of Afghan women," although the first does try to abstract the general point from the specific story . . . icky headline and all . . . second is much more grounded and features yet another Malalai.
The Times (London) December 26, 2003 Where freedom is still veiled in uncertainty By Anthony Loyd in Kabul THE high walls that hid the garden from the outside world, the sunlit reception rooms and businesslike atmosphere combined to suggest our Kabul guesthouse as the ideal location to interview Zorah. Yet despite the additional reassuring presence of a woman expat working for CARE international in Afghanistan, when the 25-year-old Afghan medical student arrived to meet us she refused to step through the gate. "People would talk," she said awkwardly. "It isn't really the done thing for an Afghan woman to be seen entering a foreigners' place." It was a small detail but significant nevertheless. As we drove to another venue for the interview, the more neutral environment of CARE's offices in Kabul, it seemed ironic that the start of a meeting with an intelligent, middle-class and liberal young woman should have hit this immediate cultural obstacle. There are almost as many untruths spoken about women's rights in Afghanistan as there are about the Taleban, who, despite their joyless ultra-fundamentalism, at least enforced a degree of stability in the country and were sometimes more flexible than Western propaganda gives them credit for. Zorah Shamzai seemed the perfect voice to cut through the fog of half- truths and spin. One of the few women to have worked in Kabul during the Taleban era, she was direct and perceptive in her appraisal of the past and present. The daughter of a retired general, Zorah had done a year and a half's study at the Medical University in Kabul to become a doctor when the Taleban swept into Kabul. The female university students had had some ten months' warning of what Taleban rule would mean for them when colleagues escaping from Herat, captured by the Taleban in 1995, had arrived to join them. "They told us that if the Taleban reached Kabul the burqa would be enforced and that our studies would be stopped," Zorah recalls. "Even the laziest among us suddenly said, 'We should enjoy this time of studying as it could be the last time we are together. When the Taleban come and we are in burqas we won't even recognise each other in the street.' " After months of rumour and siege, the students' fears were realised. The Taleban finally captured Kabul in 1996. "None of my family had ever worn a burqa in the Mujahidin time," Zorah says. "We didn't even have a burqa in the house." For two further months she resisted buying a burqa, until it became apparent that the Taleban capture of Kabul was not just a transient success, and that their edicts were serious. Her medical ambitions thwarted, Zorah's mood plunged and her depression became so acute that an elder sister, a doctor, had to give her anti-depressants to deal with the shock of living beneath the burqa. The university's male students, meanwhile, continued their studies. "That period was like a horrible dream," she remembers. "Looking back now it is over it doesn't seem like it was me who endured it as I still cannot imagine that I could have the strength to deal with something like that, or the resistance to bear it." In August 1999, however, she got a job. The situation for widows in Kabul, women who had no man to support them and were banned from work, had become so bad that the Taleban Health Minister agreed to allow CARE International in Afghanistan to employ some female translators and health educators to work with the widows at food distribution sites run by CARE. "The Taleban were never a single unified body," Zorah says. "There were different groups and cliques. Some would say that they were happy for Afghan women to work for CARE with widows, others that it was banned." It was the start of a continuing relationship with CARE, one of the few humanitarian aid agencies at the time that was prepared to employ women. She held her job for a further two years during the Taleban occupation, until they were ejected from Kabul in November 2001. Throwing away her burqa, Zorah re-enrolled at university. "The first time I went back to university last year I saw the guys who I had begun my studies with so long ago. They were graduating. It was very sad for me. They invited me to their graduation ceremony but I just couldn't go for the thought of the missing years I had lost. If the circumstances had been different I would be a doctor by now." She still works for CARE as a senior health education officer, splitting her time with her studies. Yet for all the changes of the past two years Zorah is unsettled by the future. "Women in Afghanistan do have supporters in the West now but we don't want the Western way pushed upon us," she said. "We want an Islamic style of freedom. There is some freedom of expression for us but still no one can tell the real truth of what is going on here, and women still cannot work as they would like to. The situation is unstable and there are still many conservative elements around who would not like to see women working freely." Some of those conservative elements are eternal for Afghan women. For all her courage and ambition, when asked what she would do if a potential husband forbade her from working, Zorah said: "I don't know. That situation would be disaster for me."
Malali Kakhar, the only woman on the Afghan police force
National Public Radio SHOW: Morning Edition
December 26, 2003 (10:00 AM ET)
BOB EDWARDS, host:
In the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, there's only one female
police officer. In addition to the demands of the job, she has six
children and her husband is unemployed. A nine-year veteran of the
force, she patrols while wearing the voluminous blue robe called the
burqa. NPR's Emily Harris spoke with her during a visit to Kandahar.
EMILY HARRIS reporting:
The smoking is a secret.
(Soundbite of match being struck)
HARRIS: At work, Malali Kakar only lights up in the privacy of her
office, a large square cement room with a desk, a few chairs and an
electric fan stored in the corner. This is her preferred place to
carry out police duties. Interrogating women from behind her desk,
she says, is much better than going out to crime scenes involving
women at all hours of the night. But she knows both are part of the
Ms. MALALI KAKAR: (Through Translator) Police have a broad job
description. If there's a theft, we go. If there's a murder, we go.
Anybody has any problem, we go where the problem is.
HARRIS: The problems that bring Malali into Afghan women's lives run
the gamut from drug use or smuggling, to prostitution, to getting
beaten by their husbands. For Malali herself, a frequent problem is
Afghan men. Not colleagues, she insists, although she's been known to
raise a fist, perhaps in jest, at some of them--but men who may not
even know her.
Ms. KAKAR: (Through Translator) A lot of Afghan men don't understand
that a female police officer can be efficient and helpful to them.
It's much better that I interrogate their wives, for example, instead
of a man. So they should respect me, but some people don't see that,
and they keep wondering, 'Why does this lady work as a cop?'
HARRIS: Malali is 35 years old. She joined the force when she was
just 15, during the middle of the Soviet occupation. She quit when
the mujaheddin took over. Rape and kidnappings were too common then
to leave the house. Malali couldn't work under the Taliban, either,
but she finally rejoined the police two years ago.
HARRIS: Part of her job is visiting inmates in Kandahar's prison for
women. One, sitting with a group drinking tea in the prison
courtyard, jumps up and turns off the music when the gate opens.
Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
Ms. KAKAR: (Foreign language spoken)
HARRIS: Malali asks about their health, the food, how their kids are
doing. Children come to prison with their moms if there's no one else
to care for them.
(Soundbite of babies crying)
HARRIS: Three of the dozen women locked up in here ran away from
arranged marriages. One is accused of killing her father-in-law.
Malali says she enjoys the female contact.
Ms. KAKAR: (Through Translator) When I came here, I was the only
woman among 400 male police. And since then, I've worked like a man.
My pride makes me do it. The only problem I have is being a little
HARRIS: Kandahar Police Chief Mohammed Salim says no one is quite
like Malali. But he would also love to have more female officers.
Chief MOHAMMED SALIM: (Through Translator) When women commit crimes,
we need female police officers to interrogate them. Also, we need
women to check in on female prisoners in jail. If you are looking for
suspects in a private home, we need a female officer to go along.
Male officers cannot search women or in the women's part of the house.
HARRIS: At the station, Malali wears her burqa flipped up so her full
face is showing, but in a car, as it just pulls off police grounds,
she flips it back down. Along the way, the burqa goes back up, easier
to talk, then back down later. It's her choice, she says.
Ms. KAKAR: (Through Translator) Nobody forces me to wear a burqa. I
don't wear it inside my office. But this is an Islamic society. We
have been wearing burqas for a long time, and actually it's useful on
the job because it keeps my identity secret.
HARRIS: But Malali is known on the streets of Kandahar, and she's
heard the gossip about boyfriends and the like. Malali blames the
hassles on stupidity and illiteracy, and claims to pay no mind.
Ms. KAKAR: (Through Translator) I don't care what anybody says about
me. I'm a woman who has children and a husband. My husband relies on
me and he lets me work, so I just do my job and ignore what anyone
HARRIS: Malali shares a name with a famous 19th century female Afghan
warrior who carried the flag forward in a battle with the British
after the first flag carriers fell. Policewoman Malali says she'd
love to emulate her namesake in a different way.
Ms. KAKAR: (Through Translator) What I want most is to have
Afghanistan rebuilt and prosperous and to raise one generation that
doesn't live through disasters and tragedies, that isn't martyred or
robbed. I can't say working as a police officer will help rebuild my
country, but I do want to provide security and peace for our people.
HARRIS: Emily Harris, NPR News.
Kabul: Partial Reconstructions is an installation
and public dialogue project that explores the multiple meanings and resonances of
the idea of reconstruction -- as both process and metaphor -- in the context of present-day Kabul.
www.kabul-reconstructions.net is an online discussion forum, information resource, and medium for the communication of questions and answers about the reconstruction between people inside and outside the city of Kabul itself.