The first time

A freelance foreign correspondent writes

It was catastrophic for women and girls in the city. Within days all women were ordered back into their homes and told not to come out without a male relative accompanying them. Working women, even those in high ranking positions including judges and magistrates, were ordered to stay home. Women who did venture out were told to wear a burqa: the Islamic fashion of the day was a long blue pleated nylon garment that covered from head to toe and had a small thick woven panel across the eyes.

It was so completely dehumanising, people started referring to women as “burqas” as in: “Look, there’s a couple of burqas over there…” The “morality police” would patrol the streets and markets with batons hitting women who showed any flesh as they walked (toe, ankle, wrist…)

Afghan women suddenly found they had no access to health care. They were not allowed to be seen by a male medic, but all the female medics had been sent home. A grief-stricken pregnant woman whose baby had died in the womb was turned away from the hospital.

Girls were told there would be no more school. There was to be no more sports, no games, no music, no dancing… As a female reporter, interviewing became problematic: Mullah Omah, the head of the Taliban, had decreed that the sound of a woman’s voice should not reach the ears of his men. So, when interviewing them, I had to ask my question to the male photographer with me, who would repeat it to the male translator who would ask it of the Taliban soldier. Most of them were young, barely-educated boys straight out of the madrasas of Pakistan and didn’t have a clue. Some weren’t even ideologically driven: several said they had been Mujahideen and had changed sides because the Taliban was winning in their area or the Taliban paid them more. One marched right up to me, raised his automatic rifle at my head and screamed at me to cover my face. What surprised me most of all was that he did so in perfect English. Clearly, they were not all uneducated. I was lucky: I got to fly home. The Afghan women and girls who risked their lives by just speaking to me, had nowhere to go.

I have often wondered what happened to them. How did the widow with only daughters, who had lost her husband, father, uncles, brothers and every male relative in successive wars manage to get out to buy food to feed her family? What happened to the poor pregnant woman? And the teenage girls who were terrified they were going to be married off to a Taliban soldier?

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