For many Afghan women, bare faces and lives resumed
Saida Oranos Al Ghazal was so elated Monday night when the Taliban fled Kabul, "I couldn't stand up," she says.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But the real test came the next morning. She gingerly walked the few blocks from her home to Radio Afghanistan to reclaim her old job - her face bare, and without the all-encompassing burqa.
"I was afraid, and I regret not wearing a burqa on the way, because everyone was looking at me," she says. "Today was better than yesterday. More and more women are doing it every day. You will see."
Now, with the Taliban on the run, the word "freedom" is breathed repeatedly through the mesh shrouds of head-to-toe burqas - required dress here until just days ago. The change for Afghanistan's women is not just a revolution - it is an emancipation.
At a wedding yesterday, women danced and listened to music and forsook their burqas - a scene impossible under the Taliban. Listeners of Radio Afghanistan woke yesterday morning to a woman's voice presenting the news. Men ogle at a shop hung with new posters of beautiful Indian "Bollywood" movie stars, in revealing clothes and lurid poses.
Ghazal's quest to work again (she will be back on the air, reading her beloved
Afghan poetry and radio announcements by early next week), is an example of how quickly Afghan women are seizing a new life.
"The five years of the Taliban regime is the darkest period in the history of Afghanistan, especially for its women," says Ghazal, in a fluid, angelic voice. Today, she wears a simple black scarf that covers only her head - not her face - a long, black, shapeless dress, and white leather pumps."In the end, God pushed them out."
The way the Taliban saw it, the tight restrictions were a way that its hard-line brand of Islam - as a "rescuing religion," it said - respected women and protected them from the lust of men.
"Women, you should not step outside your residence," read one 1996 Taliban decree. If women go outside with "fashionable, ornamental, tight, and charming clothes to show themselves, they will be cursed ... and should never expect to go to heaven."
Women could not work, they could not be educated, and they were required to adhere to Draconian rules of dress and behavior. Punishment was often public beating with a length of cable.
Ghazal, of course, is on the cutting edge. Not all women yet feel free enough to shed the head-to-toe coverings on the street. But they love the freedom of choice the new changes bring.
On a Kabul street, now, a woman wearing a blue burqa says she has no qualms about speaking to a Western man. "We are feeling free; we are not afraid," Farishtah says. "Even with the burqa before, sometimes they punished us anyway. It was tedious, boring, and difficult."
She says the biggest change in her life is the ability to choose. "I will decide what to do with my life," Farishtah says emphatically, despite the mesh facemask of the burqa. "For the first time in five years, I will decide."
Throughout Afghan history, Kabul has been a source of cultural liberalism that often grated against the poor countryside. As such, it was the subject of some of the harshest enforcement of Taliban rules by the Ministry of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.