In Kandahar, Women have hardly been seen on the streets since the return to power of the Taliban. But Fereshteh, Fauzia and other colleagues try to overcome their fears in order to continue working or studying.
Fereshteh and Zohra are almost the same age, 23 and 24, and the same fear: that a Taliban will approach them by surprise and throw acid in their faces, so that they will not want to go to class.
Since their return to power in mid-August, the Taliban have not physically attacked women studying or working in Kandahar (south), according to various testimonies. And the last acid attack on schoolgirls or students in the same city dates back more than twelve years.
But the memory of the 1990s, when the Taliban prevented women from working, studying or going out alone or without a burqa, was enough for the latter to desert the long and dusty commercial avenues of the Kandahar city.
The few women seen in the streets are like shadows in burqas, hurrying through the shops, shopping bags in hand.
“Before we were happy to come to work, now it distresses us”, Fereshteh Nazari, head of the Sufi Sahib girls’ school in Kandahar, told AFP.
“In the street, the Taliban do not tell us anything, but you can see that they are looking at us askance.”
“We’re not going anywhere”
At the school where you work, “Most parents no longer send their daughters over 10 to class” because already “they don’t feel safe”. That day, 700 girls went to class, compared to 2,500 who went before.
“Apart from shopping, which we do very quickly, we no longer go anywhere, we go home very quickly”, Fauzia, a 20-year-old medical student, confirms that she prefers not to give her real name for security reasons.
Men, on the other hand, take their time to chat for hours on the sidewalk, in restaurants or “shisha” bars.
Zohra, a math student who does not want to give her real name either, decided to stop going to class, as did several of her friends, following rumors of possible acid attacks. He prefers not to take risks. “For me, life is more important than anything else”, she said.
But others cannot afford it, like Fereshteh and her fellow teachers, who are waiting for their salaries, frozen since the fall of the previous government almost two months ago.
“We may end up having to beg in the market,” sighs the young director, a brunette with big black eyes highlighted with kohl, who wears a black scarf embroidered with sparkling sequins over her hair.
“We no longer have money. My husband lost his job and I have to feed our two children”, explains a colleague of Fereshteh, who prefers not to give her name, and who like many women in Afghanistan says she is “depressed”.
“It’s their problem”
Fauzia is also in trouble. An orphan, she is in charge of feeding her four siblings between the ages of 13 and 17. Until August, he worked at a local radio station, where he gave voice to commercials.
But after taking the city, the Taliban “posted messages on Facebook saying they didn’t want any more music or women’s voices on the airwaves,” says one of the station managers. “We stopped doing it, and it’s a shame because women’s voices work better to attract public attention.” She added.
Since then, Fauzia has left her resume all over the city, especially for teaching positions. But everything seems to be stagnant. “They tell me to wait”, points out. But she is getting desperate, because “the Taliban are saying nothing more.”
Officially, fundamentalists deny wanting to return to the extremist regime of the 1990s. “We have not forbidden anything to women,” said Mullah Noor Ahmad Saeed, one of the Kandahar province’s Taliban leaders.
“If they don’t feel safe or don’t go back to work, it’s their problem”, he pointed, indifferent. The Taliban, who will follow “The rules of Islam” above all, “they are still studying” the matter, he added, without elaborating.
Fauzia sees social pressure increasing, even in her own home. “My little brother tells me to cover my face, not to see my friends anymore, not to go anywhere except to school”, she says.
In the schoolyard, one of Fereshteh’s students, 12-year-old Shahzia, misses the previous government, which had promoted girls’ education. “We want freedom”, she says, but actually “We will have to do what they tell us, otherwise we will get into trouble”.