Monday 30 July 10.00
" I would like to use the opportunity to say to all Afghan people: There will be no real peace and no return to a normal life in Afghanistan, until the rights of the women have been reinstalled in Afghanistan "
UN secretary general Kofi Annan
on 4. Dec. 2001 in Brussels
They hope and they are frightened as well -
Women in Afghanistan
The long journey to the Hindukusch
This video has been called up millions of times in the whole world. A woman is sitting on a stony path at the outskirts of a village. Her face is turned away. A man, dressed in a white cloth is approaching her and he is firing , from behind, in her head. He is firing 9 bullets, when the woman is lying on the ground already, showing no more motion. This murder had been recorded.
"Allah has warned us to commit adultery, because this is wrong " said a man before the execution. After the execution the camera turned around onto the slopes around the village, where one could see dozens of men, who had watched the execution and who were applauding now. " It was Allah's order, that she has been executed " said one of them and others were calling: " Long live the Mudschahedin "
The length of the video was less than 1 minute and it had been produced, as witnesses said, in the village of Kimchok, about 1 hour by car away from Kabul. It was said, that the woman had had an affair with several Talibans, With the execution, the fighters wanted to get rid of the woman and to restore the reputation of one of their commanders.
Even the governor of the province of Basir Salangi angrily calls the Taliban responsible for that execution. Nothing happened to the murderer. He was never called to court and he was never condemned.
This is only one brutal example for the excessive violence in an obviously traumatized society. That's clear to me, I know that and I have read about that. But to talk to such women, to spend some time with them, that's quite something different. And for that reason, I travelled to Afghanistan. I was glad, to travel before journalists were murdered, before the German AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus was murdered in 2014 by a policeman, taking revenge for a NATO-attack on his village.
Afghanistan: Figures and facts
With about 33 million inhabitants ( in comparison with Germany's 82 million ) and an area of 647500 square-kilometers ( in comparison with Germany's 357021 sqare -kilometers ) Afghanistan is a thinly populated country.
The Hindukusch mountains range up to 7500 meters
The capital city Kabul has a population of 5 million people, 1 million of them are refugees.
About 75% of the population are living in the countryside
70 % of the Afghans are living below the poverty limit . The average annual income is 410 US $ per person
The unemployment rate is 35 %
Languages spoken in the country are Dari and Paschdu, the state religion is the Islam
Great parts of the country can't be used for agricultural purposes due to the mountainous terrain. But inspite of that, agriculture is the most important part of the economy and it earns 60% of the Grand national product.
The GNP is about 100 US $ per head ( in Germany it is 34.400 US )
( Figures from CIA world facebook 2008 )
Our aircraft was approaching Kabul over bare mountains, deep ravines and there was still some snow on the northern slopes.. In 30 minutes I'll be landing in Kabul. In my bag I had a hip-long shirt with long sleeves and the obligatory cloth to cover my hair. All my colleagues had told me, that under no circumstances, I should be recognizable as a foreigner , when doing my researches. With Afghan men, one could quickly run into trouble. One should under no circumstances intimidate them. The Afghan travel-guide " Lonely Planet " helped me very much with a chapter about the culture and the people.
Why traveling to Afghanistan right now ? It appeared to me, that a change was due. End of 2014 the international troops were due to leave the country . In the early summer there were elections. Thereafter the American marionette Hamid Karzai would then be history. What would then happen to women and children? Latest surveys said, that 86 % of the Afghan women were afraid of the future. I wanted to see myself, what was going on there. How were the 17.4 million women living there ,the millions of children ? Why were so many women dying, when giving birth to a baby, why were nowhere else on earth so many children malnourished and no more growing ? There were still many terror-attacks and many people were dying as a result of suicide-attacks.
I arrived after a 4 and a half hours' direct-flight with Turkish Airlines from Istambul . Then followed 5 security- checks, which weren't carried out really carefully- The terminal a representative building with dark floors and provisional counters and all this 13 years after the American bombardments. Our luggage appeared relatively fast on the one belt., at least faster than in Frankfurt. But the photographer travelling with me, Peter Müller, was missing 2 pictures, he was needing for a further application form. We hadn't known of that requirement. " New rules " told us a friendly officer. With a 10 US $ note, the problem could be solved. After we had passed the check-in, I bought immediately in the arrival hall a prepaid telephone card, as a friendly colleague had recommended to me. And outside, a laughing Muhammed Omar, with a beard, was waiting for us and loaded our luggage in a shaky car Muhammed had already frequently driven European women. He had been recommended to us by Monica Hauser from Medica Afghanistan. Medica Afghanistan is a women's organization in Kabul and a daughter organization of the doctor Monica Hauser from Medica Mondial in Cologne. So, this was a good address to trust in and we felt immediately safe with Muhammed.
On our journey into the grey city of Kabul, I was remembering, what I had seen on TV in 2001, when I had reported about the bombardment of Afghanistan . On the " axis of evil" not only Osama bin Laden should have been killed . No, a clear political goal of the bombardment was also to restore the rights of women, after the inhuman and women-hostile government of the Taliban.
Wars, wars, wars - a look at the history
How did the fundamentalistic muslims get to power in Afghanistan ? 1995 , after the victory of the Mudshahedin over the Russian invaders, they first appeared.
Let's have a look at the Afghan and unfortunately also war-history. What is unique in all those wars: the invaders never won. The Brits as well as the Russians had to leave without success, but they left a destroyed country. But let's start at the beginning : Between 1839 and 1919, there were 3 British interventions in the so called Anglo-Afghanic wars. The aim was to establish British supremacy rule in Afghanistan and to stop any expansion of the Russian empire . This British-Russian policy was also called the great game. We remember: The Brits had to leave without success. After the third Anglo-Afghan war, the peace of Rawalpindi was concluded. Afghanistan was for the first time independent and it had a king. Amanullah was a modern thinking man and he ruled, that men and women should have equal rights and women should have access to all public rooms , even if they only went there for their pleasure. They could go together with men to cinemas, theatres and cafes. They could live an emancipated life as never before and thereafter. Many of the old Afghan women are still dreaming of those days.
There were almost 60 years of peace, for Afghanistan an almost unbelievable long period. But then a sequence of military conflicts followed, lasting until today. The first started with a coup d ètat in April 1978, organized by the communist people's party, followed by an uprise of great parts of the population. In Dec. 1979 Russia intervened with military power and installed a new communist government. With the Russian invasion started a cruel , 10 years lasting war between the government, supported by Russia and opposing groups of Mudschahedin. Great parts of the country were devastated. Some Russian tanks and remains of Russian aircraft, which had been shot down, can still be seen in the ravines and valleys. They are welcome toys for the children. The Russian leaders reacted with military escalation - regardless of the vanishing popularity of their troops. Inspite of bombing wide areas of the country and driving out the people of their homes, they didn't succeed in braking the opposition of the Mudschahedin. On the other hand, the opposition was not able to bring down the government. The result was a fatal and bloody stalemate in the middle of the Nineteeneighties.
Only under the new leadership of Michail Gorbatschow, Russia ended to pursue a pure military solution of that conflict . They started talking to the Mudschahedin -parties and at the same time, Gorbatschow started to prepare a retreat of the Russian troops. At that time, Muhammed Nadschibullah came to power and his central task was , to prepare the Russian retreat and a reconciliation with the Afghan people thereafter. In Nov. 1987, the highest ranking group of the Afghan representatives, the Loja Dschirga , agreed on a new constitution and called the state again " Republic of Afghanistan " The Geneva convention between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and the USA stated in April 1988, that the Russian troops should completely withdraw in Feb. 1989.
So far, so good.
But already in 1992 , only 3 years later, an inner Afghan civil war between the Tadschiks and the Paschtuns started, one year after the Tadschiks had declared their independence. When 2 parties are fighting, normally a third party is happy. Beginning in 1994, the Taliban movement started to organize itself in the province of Kandahar and with support of Pakistan, it managed to control the greatest part of the country within 2 years. In Sep. 1996 the Taliban conquered Kabul; as a result, the remaining military opposition forces formed the " United Front ", which continued to fight against the Taliban. But this " United Front " was pushed back to the furthest North of the country until summer 1998.The Taliban introduced a puritanic order, based on an extreme form of the Sharia, the religious law of the Islam. This Sharia is characterized by very repressive measures and rules against women. No longer skirts allowed or open hair or playing music. The frightening " Virtue Guards " assured with brutal violence, that the ideas of Islam and the Sharia were observed. Soon it was also forbidden, to visit cinemas, to play with toys, watch TV and to use other means of entertainment. The academic education of women was quickly forbidden. High heeled shoes were forbidden, because the clicking of the heels could disturb the quietness. The glasses of the windows had to be painted black, so that women could no longer be seen behind the windows. If somebody opposed those rules, he had to expect cruel punishment, such as being spanked with a whip, the amputation of hands or feet, or even being hanged in the great olympic stadium, where the male spectators would applaud. Amnesty International reported at that time frequently about severe offendings against human rights, especially those of women and girls.The world only watched what was happening in Afghanistan. The people there seemed to be forgotten. Less Afghans could read and write, the mortality - rate among children terribly increased. . When in 2001 a bad hunger catastrophe broke out in Afghanistan, the Taliban denied help organisations to come and help.
All this was not in accordance with the rules of the Islam, also not the Arabic inspired ones , which the Taliban said they would follow. It was also not in accordance with the philosophic Islam, which is being followed by two thirds of the Afghan population. Now, only the Taliban decided what was right or not.
It was difficult to understand, why then and today, attract so many radical Islamists. And the Taliban offered shelter to Al Quaida. Al Quaida used Afghanistan as a basis to grow and to run training camps , providing there a military training to thousands of young Islamists from all over the world. When in 1998 terror attacks were carried out against the US - embassies in Kenya and Tansania, president Clinton ordered to attack those training camps in Afghanistan with cruise missiles. But only the terror attacks on 11. Sept. 2001 against the twin towers in New York lead Clinton's successor Georg W. Bush to launch a military attack on Afghanistan, together with allies of America.
Kabul could quickly be occupied in Dec. 2001 and Kandahar and Kundus in the North as well. An interim government with president Hamid Karzai was installed. In Germany the Petersberg conference was held and Europeans, Americans and Afghans met there, however there were no Afghan women at the table. Everything seemed to be on a good way, even when the Taliban, before they were driven out, had managed , that the world's greatest enemy Osama bin Laden had been able to escape. Only in 2011 he was killed by US special forces during a surprising attack in the Pakistan Abottabad . Also this is already history.
But even when the Taliban leadership had to retreat to Pakistan, she is still fighting from there since 2003 , with increasing intensity, a war against the Afghan government. Although the intervention of the NATO countries was welcomed by the majority of the Afghan population, the new Taliban movement managed to gain again influence in Afghanistan. And it got stronger and stronger. And there was a division of the country with severe consequences. Strong groups of Taliban in the South and relative peace in the North.
But the USA concentrated more and more on the other war, it led in Iraq , missing money and the continuing influence of Pakistan in Afghanistan destabilized the young state. Whilst in the first year, after the Taliban had been pushed out, only seldom Taliban attacks happened, the population experienced in the following years several coordinated attacks against state facilities and NATO troops. And the Taliban managed to expand again over the whole South of the country.
With the first quiet elections since 5000 years of Afghanistan's war history, the country hoped to return in 2014 to political and economic stability - without president Hamid Karzai ,whom the constitution denied a further election .
Although the Taliban threatened people to cut off their fingers when they went to the election , 7 million Afghans went to the election. This was a clear success for democracy, said the election- observers . It was also a success for the international troops. Until the end of 2014 some 43250 foreign soldiers were stationed in Afghanistan, plus 360.000 Afghan security forces. They were being opposed by some 25.000 Taliban. It's bitter to realize, that this minority manages again and again to terrorize the country.
The future must show, whether the 13 years of NATO presence and high amounts of money that were spent for troops and weapons were worthwhile to help Afghanistan and its population to attain security, peace and welfare.
The result of the election? A tugging that lasted months. After the first election round, the former finance minister Abdullah Abdullah was leading and then after the second round it was said, the former world banker Asraf Ghani had won. It took weeks to find out, if one had cheated. It should have been the first real democratic election. But it didn't look like that. And what one of the 2 applicants would do for women, if he would become new president, was nowhere to read or hear. Women, they don't seem to exist , even when 35 % of the 7 million ballots came from them.
Maryam Safi: " Without us women, there will be no peace "
" My country has suffered so many years from war - now we need peace " said the 26 years old Maryam Safi with full conviction. For that reason she studied islamic right at the university of Kabul. Then she was learning for the master - certificate to the subject: "Social change and working for peace" She wants to work for her country and to encourage the population to go for peace. She focussed on women's and children's rights. Because those 2 groups are most likely suffering from war. " It is impossible to reach peace, if women are being excluded. And especially children are our future" stressed the young student with great engagement.
What has changed the women's life
in the meantime ?
First the good news: the situation has improved a little bit for the girls and women. More than 2 million of them can go to school now. When the Taliban ruled, they had to stay at home. The prisons for them were overcrowded as never before in the history of the country. Daily whippings and stonings were attracting men in the stadium to watch that terrible punishments.
But still dramatical fates of women in Afghanistan are shocking us. For example the cruel picture of the 18 years old Aisha on the cover-photo of the American Times in 2010. The Afghan girl is looking shyly into the camera.But it's not her look, no, it's the great hole in the middle of her face, that shocks the observer. Somebody had cut off her nose. Why ? Because she had left her old husband, who had whipped her. When she was 13 years old, her father had sold her to her later husband. After she had left her husband, he had worried about his honour. He was searching " his " wife, who had left him, he found her and immediately cut off with a knife her nose and ears. The girl - no longer worth anything - was lying in the mountains near Kandahar, unconscious and heavily bleeding. Just by chance, American soldiers found her and arranged her transport to America. American surgeons were fighting there to restore her nose and ears. They were successful, but after 2 months, somebody decided that the girl had to return to Afghanistan.
Nobody knows, where Aisha was hiding then in Afghanistan. Also I couldn't find her during my research journey, what I think is good news. The network of people trying to protect her was working.
The cruel fate hit Aisha right at the time, when the international community met in Tokio, to discuss the provision of billions of Dollar to support Afghanistan. 56 States planned to support Afghanistan with a minimum of 16 billion dollars , after the retreat of the international troops.Germany promised to make available 430 million Euro per year. Since 2002, Germany had already paid to Afghanistan 2 billion Euro developing aid. Within a "transformation-decade" - that's how German civil servants call it, the country should be stabilized again economically and politically.
But this goal still seems to be far away. the human development index showed Afghanistan at that time on rank 175 among 187 states. A condition for a better ranking would be to install and maintain women's rights, which is today still " wasted paper ". The scientists in the ministry for developing aid in Berlin said it somewhat more political: " The word " women's rights " is almost unknown in Afghanistan. For that reason, the Federal Republic planned to provide further aid, depending on the progress in establishing women's and human rights. How does it say in the treaty - in Germany one says: "paper is patient". In case, the Afghan government won't achieve sufficient progress, the money would be kept back. It was to be seen, how the new government , following Hamid Karzai , would use the donated money to strengthen women's rights.
Afghan women clearly remembered: The former Afghan president Hamid Karzai was partly responsible for the sufferings of women, as everybody could read on the website of the Afghan government. Still in the year, when the international nations met in Tokyo to discuss the provision of money, Mr. Karzai had officially approved the use of violence against women. In his guideline, which was published in the internet in 2010 one could read: " The man is a fundamental creature and the woman is subordinated to him " and further on " the woman has to be treated in accordance with the Sharia "
A woman belongs to a man, never to herself
Before my journey to Afghanistan I read: 3 out of 4 women are forced to marry, in most cases they are younger than 16 years. Women are a merchandise. They belong to her father, to her husband - but not to themselves. They are worth nothing. They only have a value when they are being owned by a man , her father, brother and later on her grownup sons.
Their life-expectancy is about 45 years, far below of that of men. All over the world, especially in the industrial nations, it's the other way round. Afghan women receive almost no medical help when they get ill or pregnant or when they give birth to a baby. One of the reasons for that is, that male doctors are not allowed to treat women. And female doctors are not allowed to go on the street or to their working place without the company of a male member of the family. Those are mainly the rules on the countryside, as it was, when the Taliban ruled. That's a vicious circle, which makes women to become victims again.
Women also have to be available to their husbands for sex at any time ( says a law from 2009 ). And finally: No where else try so many women to commit suicide like in Afghanistan, by burning themselves with Kerosine. Also in Kabul's greatest clinic, every day about 10 women are being admitted with serious burning injuries,. They couldn't stand this terrible situation any longer - they just wanted to die.
The newest study of the Afghan health ministry showed 5 out of 10.000 women commit suicide. The suicide rate seems to be the highest in Western Herat, near the Iranian border. " Especially the refugees from Iran have experienced there relative great liberty and now they are being confronted with repressive family patterns " explained Dr. Monica Hauser from Medica Afghanistan to me. According to the Islamic law, both the bride and the bridegroom have to agree to get married. But in Afghanistan, old traditions survive . Here, only male family members may accept or refuse the choice of their parents. Men are authorized to choose alone a partner; this doesn't apply to women, who have no right to decide themselves.. But, it's getting even worth, when a woman doesn't commit suicide and escapes out of an enforced marriage. In this case, she can't expect help from the police - quite contrary. And it's getting even worth, when she is being seen with another man ; then she is being put into prison for committing a crime against morality - often for many years. When I heard this from a lawyer from Medica Afghanistan, I just couldn't believe that.
But many women have told me such stories. For example Fauzia Nawabi. She is working for an independent human rights' commission in Northern Afghanistan. 2012 she was talking to girls and women, who had survived the attempt to commit suicide. They all had tried to commit suicide, because their fathers had sold them and forced them to marry much older men. In Afghanistan it's still not necessary that a woman agrees to a marriage. And this applies even more to underage daughters, who are not allowed to comment the decision of their fathers.
And Fauza stresses, that the known fates are only the top of an iceberg. The most fates remain unknown and unregistered, because the families feel ashamed and don't want, that others know what happened in their families.
Surprisingly, mainly educated women try to escape from an enforced marriage by committing suicide - for example Nadia. Her family had forced her to marry a man , she didn't like. Her girl friend had told me: Her family had discovered, that she intended to commit suicide and could stop her to do that. Meanwhile , Nadia is married since years, being very unhappy and she remembers the so called " happiest day of her life " only with horror. The day, when the family should forget all sorrows and should celebrate a great party - forgetting war and violence. At such a day , they are dancing and laughing until the morning hours . The bride however has to look unhappy, that's her duty. By demonstrating unhappiness , she shows, how sad she is to leave her family. At most marriages, sadness and tears are however not played, because such marriages are enforced marriages.
" Germany is also being defended at the Hindukusch " That's a sentence, the former German Statesecretary for Defence , Peter Struck, said, in order to justify the engagement of German troops in Afghanistan against the before mentioned " axis of evil ". This engagement had been much discussed by the German population. The former chancellor Gerhard Schröder had promised - after the 9/11 terror attacks - unlimited solidarity to the US and had also stressed Germany's new responsibility for world wide military engagement.
2014, the troops retreated from a country, that resisted any occupation in the past. It's a good example for a never ending fight for independence. But what would now happen to the people, to the women and children. Would there be ever peace after so many wars , the invasions of the Brits, the Russians and then the NATO ? What can western democracies achieve against deeply rooted traditions , against weapons and the Burka ?
Sima Samar: "Continue to trust in us, we will make it"
The head of the Afghan human rights' commission Sima Samar was, after there had been elections in her country, convinced: " Peace needs the participation of the population. Naturally, the will of the political leaders is important, but most important is that the people participate in the political process. None of the candidates has a magician's stick." And towards the Germans she says: " Don't give up in trusting in us, we will make it "
How does one get to the UN-Compound ?
" 50 Afghans - 50 opinions " A little bit irritated our friendly driver Muhammed Omar explained to me, why we were driving since 1 hour the Jalabad road in Kabul up and down without finding the UN-compound, in which UNICEF had its offices. Here were no road signs and no house numbers. Whereever one looked, there were barbed wires and security guards - 17 times I was telephoning with Alistair from UNICEF, because I wanted to meet her in the UNICEF central office. An Afghan employee tried to explain to Muhammed how we could find the narrow entrance to the UN compound. Finally he found the narrow entrance. Was this the entrance to the UN compound ? 3 security checkpoints had to be passed and then I saw the UNICEF sign. " We made it !" Peter Crowley was the UNICEF representative in Afghanistan. His budget then was 120 million dollar per year.; this was for health -., food-, and education -projects. During the next hour I got a very comprehensive briefing . Peter explained to me, why they all had to live now on the compound. There were too many terror attacks against the foreign colleagues of the help organizations. A flat downtown , a house with a garden ? Much too dangerous. But inspite of that, the prices for real estates and flats in Kabul were rising extremely. Because still too many NGOs and foreign government representatives were paying what was being demanded by corrupt real estate agents. That's something, that is happening in all cities of that world after wars and crisises. The ciitizens of Kabul have to cope with such high rents. That's a further heritage of that conflict here.
But then we opened the heavy doors of our protected UN car, left the compound and moved to the North. In our team were now the interpreter Maryam, Alistair and Farzana from UNICEF. Every hour the driver had to report to the central office, reporting the exact position, status of the road and security situation. Too often, colleagues of help-organizations had been killed or kidnapped. Recently four 15 years old youngsters managed - as ordered by the Taliban - to enter the heavily guarded Hotel Serena in Kabul, carrying pistols and sticks - 13 people were killed by them , among them 4 foreigners and 2 children. The Hotel Serena belongs to one of the richest and convinced muslims - Karim Aga Khan. This shows, that a strong, common belief is no longer a protection.
Karla Schefter : "I don't give up the people"
The German nurse Karla Schefter has been in Afghanistan since 1993. She was in charge for the construction of a hospital in the province Wardak, in a country devastated by war. But it's no longer possible for her to go to Wardak. " It's too dangerous , especially for foreigners. Suicide attacks and kidnappings are happening there daily. For that reason, she was now living in Kabul, supporting women there. " I don't give up the people " was the title of her book. As no other German, she knew the life in the province. The intelligent elites of that country disappeared to abroad and probably won't return. In war times no normal school training took place, therefore no new elites could be formed. Until then, not enough money was available for education, but much too much for security and the army. And she sadly added: " 70 % of the population suffer, a result of the ongoing war, from mental disturbances. Looking at some freshly picked flowers can create hope" said Karla Schefter " One is sewing a new dress and displays it. One is celebrating one of the islamic feasts. Children are being born and people die. All this rises some hope "
We were passing Bagram east of us, a city, which was built by the Russians during their occupation time. Thousands of years after Alexander the Great, who had been using this place as a camp for his invasion into India. Today, Bagram is known worldwide as a gigantic US military base. And it's known for his terrible prison, which has a similar reputation like Guantanamo. The inquiry methods there and the way prisoners were treated there , contributed to the fact, that Afghans are no longer believing any word the Americans are saying about human rights. Why should the Afghan society still trust in people, who, by using their military power, abuse the legal system and whose enquiry methods and nightly raids deeply frighten the Afghan people ?
With a deep sigh I turned away from the far away flat buildings. For a short moment I could see an aircraft in the sunny sky. . We still had a long way to the North, to get to the women and children.
Then, after a 2 hours drive on a relatively good road, we got to the province of Parwan. A hospital for children, a special one, is our goal. We saw the one-story building at the end of a narrow stony way. Inside it was dark, but it was cooler than outside In the first room we saw the little Chausa in a much too big bed for adults. Later I was told, that the mother was on the toilette when we arrived. So, Chausa was not alone. The eyes of that child were almost bigger than the whole face. The girl, I was told, was then 4 months old. But she weighed only 2 kilogramme. She was one of those thousands of children, who were too small for their age and who didn't grow. Because they had not got enough food, because their mothers had no milk or because they had stopped breastfeeding too early, had to. Those children were malnourished. Under those conditions the bodies were unable to resist illnesses and their bodies were not developing properly . Those severely malnourished children needed special food. According to the
statistics, about 17 % of the babies were suffering from this malnourishment in the various provinces.
Chausa's mother and the baby had already been 7 days in the hospital. The little baby had been fed with so called therapeutical special food, which had been provided by UNICEF, using donated money. On average, such an emergency therapy takes 20 days. The doctors then told us, that Chausa would survive. And that was, what her mother Amina had hoped as well. But she also told me, that she was worrying about her other 5 children at home. They were taken care by the 14 years old daughter - which is normal in Afghanistan. Girls have to stay at home, as soon as they get sexually mature; no more school, no more education. Now they can help their mothers to take care of the other children and they can learn, what a grown up woman has to do in the household. And from that moment on, they become a valuable merchandise for their father, who starts now looking for a potent husband. Potent means: He has money and animals. Such a girl can be changed for a sheep or a cow or for 9000 dollar - she means additional income for the family and that's her value.
But more and more girls don't accept this anymore. They resist, even against their father. Like the 23 years old physiotherapist Farchunda Nesjatu, whom I met in the children's hospital. She had been lucky. Her parents, she told me, had encouraged her to learn for a job. She was sure, her father would have never forced her into a marriage against her will. " But it's difficult in Afghanistan to find a husband, who is willing to accept a woman working in a job" she added smilingly.
With much empathy she was taking care of the tiny, malnourished babies. But she was mainly supporting their mothers, who shared with their babies the dirty beds for days and weeks. Mothers , who comforted and breastfed their babies, when they had enough milk, which was not always the case. But the hope, that their babies would survive, unites those mothers.
In this hospital, 20 women and their babies stayed in 1 room. The food was being provided by the relatives, because the hospital was unable to do that. And all those women had great families at home. Their sorrows and worryings were engraved in their faces. And the summer-heat was a problem. There was no ventilator at the ceiling , that could have stirred up the hot air. Air-conditioning , that's something, nobody dares to dream of here.
We were buying some ice-cream for the women and children. There were also some elder children around, because there was nobody available to take care of them. I left that hospital really shocked and I asked myself again: Where has all the donated money gone
to, if not in such projects? Where did the money disappear to ? And why did Afghanistan only plan to spend 6 % of the money, donated by the international community, for children and women projects ?
The life of Afghan women
The first weeks of a newly born baby in Afghanistan are the most dangerous ones. Almost every 7th baby dies, after it was born, from avoidable illnesses like diarrhoea or pneumonia. Two thirds of the sick babies are not reaching the age of 1 month. Especially in the more distant provinces, there is a lack of doctors and midwifes. Also this is a result of the Taliban's government in the nineteenninties. More than 85 % of the women are giving birth at home. And there they have no access to medical care. Almost none of them is being assisted by a midwife when giving birth or thereafter. So every pregnancy means a life threatening risk. In almost no other country, so many women are dying whilst giving birth, because the way to the next health-center is too far and dangerous. And on the countryside, women are not allowed to travel alone. As a result of the Taliban forbidding women to have a job, a full generation of female doctors and midwifes is missing in Afghanistan. That's fatal, since it's forbidden to most women , to be investigated by a male doctor
I was therefore not surprised, when especially young women told me, that they wanted to leave Afghanistan, especially the few well educated women. This " Brain Drain ", the exit of the intelligent people, is meanwhile also frightening the government.
A good example for that were the 20 years old Adiba and her 14 years old sister Sabrina from Charikar. Shaped and controlled by the male society, they didn't allow my photographer to take front pictures of them. They were wearing a great cloth, covering head and shoulders, the Hidschab. They told me how much they had liked to go to school, because their aim was to acquire a good education and a job, enabling them one day to earn enough money for their living - if necessary, also abroad.
Our conversation was only among women: the 2 girls, my interpreter and myself. Men, who tried to enter the class room , where friendly asked by myself to wait outside. That was something, they were not accustomed to. They didn't look at me very friendly. That a woman from a western country would ask them to leave the room, was not in accordance with Afghan customs. Those Afghan men probably thought, I had made a great mistake. The girls however laughed and felt liberated. They happily told me, that her mother Safia was only wearing the Burka. When I visited Safia in her house, she told me, that she hadn't worn it in earlier days, because she always got headache of it. But her neighbours were criticizing her for that. As a result of that, she started again wearing the Burka , to protect her from male views.
Now I wanted to know it exactly and I put on a Burka myself. The first experience was, that it was unbelievably hot under this cloth, because no fresh wind is getting through that cloth; it feels narrow and your hair is being pressed on your head. Through the small, squared grille in front of your face, one only has a view-angle of maximum 180 degrees, when turning your head. Wearing that cloth, one can't cross a road safely.
Nowhere in the Koran one can find a paragraph saying, that women have to be dressed like that. In my opinion, it's pure harassment of intolerant men. I couldn't understand this. Can it really be the case, that men feel sexual desires, when they see women in normal western dress ? And I couldn't understand, why the women don't oppose those restrictions. But later on, I also learnt, that a Burka can be a good protection.
But there was also another explanation for the Burka. Once upon a time, the Burka was a symbol for the upper-class women, indicating, that they didn't have to work on the fields - yes, really. Because working is almost impossible when wearing a Burka. But also at that earlier times, the women wearing a Burka, felt safe of the views of unmarried men. And the Burka protected them of male attacks and rapings. Only when the Taliban got to power, it became a duty for women to wear the Burka. It was also a symbol for the anti-woman policy of those fundamentalistic men.
But we women from Europe shouldn't tie the liberty for Afghan women to the Burka, explained my interpreter Maryam, after I had taken off the Burka. And she added, it would be much more important, to claim access to education and work for women, as the lawyers from Medica Afghanistan had also told me before.
But the Burka got in 2014 in Europe other headlines in the newspapers. The European court for human rights ruled, that the French prohibition to wear a Burka in France , was legal. This was justified as follows: Women wearing a Burka would not present a danger to the public. But one also had to consider, that some women, who were forced to wear a Burka, could feel like being imprisoned.
It's interesting to see a social aspect in the justification of the judges. The Burka means a limitation to the communication in the public. It's important for the communication, that the face can be recognized and the person can be clearly heard. Such a hiding under the Burka means anonymity, which can intimidate and irritate the other side, making it to an object - like a oneway mirror. Those were interesting thoughts of the high court to the subject" Burka "
Most of the Afghan women will never read or hear of that high - court -decision, as well as the 2 students in Charikar, who had invited me to their house. Their mother Safia was happy and we were sitting there barefoot on the floor. I was trying to avoid, that my foot soles were directed to somebody, because this would have been impolite . Because there were only women in the room, the housewife covered her nice, dark hair only with a cloth. Also the girls were nicely dressed and had taken off the cloth. When I asked them , if they would later on wear a Burka, they were strongly nodding their head. No and never they assured me. No and never. I hoped, that those young women would later be able, - other than her mother - to make their own decisions.
Afghan hospitality also means, always great bowls with food. Even when a guest comes without an advance notice that he planned to come - like me - he will always be welcome. Quickly a big plate with wonderful pieces of watermelons was put on the floor in front of me.. The others were only looking, whilst I was eating. I remember, one shouldn't touch everything - that´s the custom - otherwise more food would be offered.
The daughters of my hostess - Adiba and Sabrina- were strong girls, who, this was my impression, would probably have a better life in the future, such as 20 other young women, whom I met in the afternoon in a youth-contact-center in a village in the province of Parvan. They all have plans and a goal. They were visiting the families in their village and in the neighbouring village, trying to convince the parents there to send their daughters longer to school, longer than only to the beginning of their sexual maturity. The aim should be to finish a school and to start a job-training.
The 16 years old very lively Rakhsar told me of a very unreasonable father. " It took me more than 1 hour to convince him, to send his daughter again to school. When saying that, her eyes were flashing. Difficult to believe, if one knows the patriarchal society in Afghanistan. But Rakhsar had obviously power, she was able to convince and she wanted to become a journalist one day. And: Never give up, she said. Especially not in Afghanistan with its young women.
In Charikar, the lawyer and head of the education -center, Asma Sadat, was fighting continuously for the rights of women, even when it was difficult at that time. In her education - center, the young girls experienced for the first time something like self-consciousness and they got the feeling, that they also could achieve something. Asma Sadat knew, that women's rights were a part of the constitution. " But that's only a paper" she said. For that reason, it's so important, that the girls learn, what their rights are . It's still a long way, the Afghan women have to go.