Afghan Girls Nonetheless Working Face A Scary Future

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When the nurse came to work that Sunday, August 15, the medicine van was parked in front of the hospital, and as she approached the building, she saw the driver standing next to the vehicle and frantically waving back to her and the other nurses.

“He shouted: ‘All women have to go, sister please go, the Taliban are here!’” Recalls the 35-year-old nurse. “At first we couldn’t understand him; it seemed impossible. “

Dressed in jeans and a blouse, Western-style clothing that she feared she would no longer be able to wear in Kabul, she and the other women around her climbed into the back of the truck that dropped them off at home. For three days the nurse was too scared to leave her home. On the fourth morning she received a call from the president of the hospital: “The Taliban have no problem with women,” she recalls. “Please come back to work. There are tasks here that only you can do; We don’t have any resources, we need you. “

The nurse spoke to BuzzFeed News to give readers a “real picture” of what it is like to be a working woman in Afghanistan now, she said, asking for anonymity as she feared for her life.

For working women staying in Afghanistan, the days since the fall of Kabul have brought fear and appalling uncertainty about what their lives will be like under Taliban rule. The Taliban have been publicly claiming for months that they moderated their positions on aspects of women’s rights. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told reporters in Kabul on Wednesday that there was only a “temporary restriction” on working women for their own safety amid the chaos of regime change.

“Our security forces are not trained [in] how to deal with women, ”said Mujahid. “Until we are completely safe … we ask the women to stay at home.”
But the beginnings of Taliban rule in Afghanistan only confirmed what Afghan women have always said: that their homeland will once again become a place where women are exposed to greater dangers, restrictions and few opportunities. Women who once publicly spoke out for their rights were forced to flee the country, their homes and offices were ransacked by armed men and posters with pictures of women were defaced across the capital. Young girls were sent home from school and warned not to return. Hospitals like the one where the nurse works are segregated by sex – doctors and nurses can only talk to and treat other women, and all women outside their homes are required to wear hijab. Even in areas where the Taliban have not yet begun surveillance of women, their return to power has encouraged vigilante groups who have threatened women for not wearing hijab or staying in their homes.

“We’re just waiting now,” said the nurse, who has been working in the hospital for 10 years. “But even we don’t know what we’re waiting for.”

For women like the nurse, the only breadwinner in their families, going to work was never a choice, but a necessity. She now dreams of leaving Afghanistan, but feared that this would be impossible due to her special circumstances: the nurse lived with her mother and a disabled sister who had to be looked after at all times. Even before a bomb killed dozens of people at Kabul airport on Thursday, the nurse said she couldn’t imagine guiding an elderly woman and child through the desperate crowd that flies out of the country for the limited seating jostled.

“If something happened to my sister or if I had to leave her behind, I couldn’t live with myself,” she said.

Although the nurse did not trust the Taliban or the president of her hospital, she returned to the hospital on Thursday out of a sense of duty, she said. In the streets, she said, there were soldiers everywhere wearing Kalashnikovs and watching her go by in hijab.

“The fear was great,” she says. “They stared at me like I was prey. But I kept telling myself, maybe they are no longer like they used to be, they no longer hit women. They seemed calm, not violent. At least not yet. “

The hospital lacked the security guards who normally guarded every entrance, and the entire room appeared to be upside down. She went in and found that most of the patient wards were empty – many had simply ripped out their fluids and walked out of the hospital. Those who stayed – a few terminally ill, a pregnant woman – looked scared, she said.

The COVID ward, which the nurse said had been overcrowded with at least a dozen patients until the week before, was now empty. The nurse learned from another nurse that the relatives of some patients the Taliban had decided on a more dangerous threat than the coronavirus and had brought their sick family members home or directly to the airport.

“We no longer have any data on the number of COVID patients in this hospital or in this city,” she told BuzzFeed News. “The Ministry of Health is still updating COVID data, but none of it is real. Nobody who is sick wants to leave their house and meet Taliban soldiers. “

A few mass rush victims were also taken to her hospital for treatment, but they were men whom she could not treat under the new hospital regulations. The nurse said she learned about this new rule from a colleague who told her she was sent home by Taliban soldiers when she was talking to a man with a bleeding foot.

Nurses and doctors have to go to the hospital daily to record their presence in the city for the Taliban. Between the new guidelines and the empty wards, the nurse has a hard time motivating herself to keep showing up for work, she said.

Many patients who want to avoid the risk of leaving their home turn to private healthcare professionals. The nurse recently gave birth to a baby when a pregnant woman showed up in her neighborhood and begged for help. The nurse carried everything she could find and took the woman to her house, where she secretly gave birth to the baby. The nurse left the woman a list of medications she would eventually need, but she said she hadn’t heard from her.

The nurse is afraid of too many house calls because of the Taliban soldiers at the checkpoints monitoring movements in the city, but she doesn’t know how else to make money. The hospital’s president recently told the nurses their salaries were on hold until the city’s banks were back to normal – the banks in Kabul closed on August 15, just before Afghanistan’s former President Ashraf Ghani fled and the Taliban arrived in the capital . When the banks reopened after almost a week, entry was almost impossible due to massive crowds. The nurse said she didn’t have access to an ATM and wasn’t sure what to do if she ran out of cash. If the Taliban force women like them to quit their jobs, they have no way of supporting their families, the nurse said.

In her neighborhood, the nurse said soldiers were not as much of a problem as normal men on the street who suddenly became moral guards, telling women to go home, wearing a hijab, being ashamed and being beaten to warn if they do not adhere to it.

A few days ago she had an argument with a shopkeeper who reprimanded her for regularly wearing jeans: “It’s good that the Taliban are here to take care of women like you,” she recalls. Since then, the nurse’s mother and a young male neighbor take turns going out to buy bread and basic necessities for the family.

The nurse now spends most of her time indoors, but her main sources of entertainment at home no longer offer the semblance of escapism – the television just broadcasts the news. “All I see are turbans, beards and rifles,” said the nurse. “No Bollywood films, no Afghan superstar or the chat shows we used to love.” The radio, she said, no longer plays music, just the religious songs of the Taliban, which “have no melody and like a funeral sound”. ●

Khatol Momand contributed to the coverage.