By: Ziba Balkhi
Shazia wore a blue burqa on a hot summer day, second-hand women’s and children’s clothes spread around her, waiting for the customers to stop by. She is among over two dozen women who sell used shoes, clothes and purses in a makeshift market on a roadside north of Sakhi shrine in Mazar-e-Sharif city.
These women come and set up their tents everyday, spend hours from dawn to dusk, hoping to make enough money to feed their families. They tolerate the heat of the summer, the rainy days of spring, and muddy streets during the winter.
But for them, one thing has recently become unbearable: The Taliban’s constant harassment.
Shazia, 40, who started to work as a roadside vendor one year ago, said the Taliban have made her and other women’s lives difficult in the market.
“The government is not allowing us to work. They tell us to not sit on the streets, treating us badly,” she said. “They destroy our shades and tents, and they throw away our goods.”
She added the Taliban fighters are cursing women who work there.
Shazia’s husband, a daily laborer, is jobless, so she has to work to support her family of seven. On good days, she makes 100 Afghani, a little over one U.S. dollar, an amount not nearly enough to feed seven mouths.
Other women owning stalls in the market also complained about the Taliban’s mistreatment. They claim the Taliban are harassing, humiliating and insulting women everyday for working on the streets.
Maryam, 45, who sells women’s and children’s used clothes, said she lives in a rental house, and that she is the only breadwinner in the family.
She said the Taliban aren’t allowing the customers to buy from the women in the market.
“They are telling the buyers that the stalls are closed, and telling us to ‘go and die,’” she said.
She added the Taliban aren’t letting his son sell vegetables in another market, beating him.
“We don’t have cooking oil at home at the moment,” she said.
Afghanistan is on the verge of an economic collapse. Twenty-four million people are in need of vital humanitarian assistance across the country, according to the United Nations.
Though unemployment is a universal crisis in country, women have suffered disproportionately due to the Taliban’s discriminatory regulations, restricting their rights to work or get education.
The roadside market north of Sakhi shrine is an economic hub for the mostly low income families in Mazar-e-Sharif, both the customers and the vendors are among the poorest residents of the city, who will be harmed most by its closure.
Fatima, a 45-year-old woman, said she has been working in the market as a vendor to feed her six children after her husband was killed in a traffic accident ten years ago.
She said women could work freely in the market during the former government. But the harassment began after the Taliban returned to power.
“One day, the municipality collected our goods, and threw them in a vehicle, but we went and got them back while crying,” she said.
As the economy crumbles, the purchase power has dropped significantly in Afghanistan. As a result, many people prefer to buy used clothes over the new ones.
“I have come here to buy a cloth for my daughter because it is cheaper here,” said Najia, a 25-year-old woman, who came to the market. “The economic situation of all the people is bad. They don’t even have money to eat food.”
The vendors names are pseudonyms