In an old house, surrounded by mud walls, live four widows and a dozen orphans — all victims of a war — they were not part of.
Life has never been easy for these widows. They lost their husbands in war. They and their children were condemned to poverty. In a deeply conservative Kandahar, all four of them had to leave their house almost everyday to work and make money to feed their children, defying social norms by working in the streets.
But the Taliban’s return to power has made their lives even more difficult. The new government has not allowed most working women to return to work, a decision which may have looked easy for the Taliban to make, but has left a devastating impact on families who have lost their male members in the conflict and have no man to support them financially.
Sakina, one of the four widows living in the Kandahar house, said she lost her husband in an airstrike in western Afghanistan five years ago, and she has been the only breadwinner for her five children since then.
Before the Taliban, she sold dates to schoolchildren outside a school and made between 100 and 150 Afghani, an amount less than two dollars, daily. Though not enough, at least the family had a steady source of income to pay the house rent and buy some food.
“I sat outside a school from morning till night to win a piece of bread for myself and my children,” she said. “But the Taliban now does not allow me to work.”
Of course it is not only Sakina who lost her job after the Taliban’s return to power.
The Taliban have not allowed most working women to return to work after they took power. There is no reliable data available about the exact number of women who have lost their jobs in the past ten months. But that number could be thousands or even thousands by some estimates.
The UN Women executive director, Sima Bahous, said in a statement last month that the restrictions the Taliban have imposed on women “increasingly limit women’s ability to earn a living.” Afghanistan is losing up to one billion USD annually due to the Taliban’s restriction on women’s employment, according to her.
Bahous called for the “immediate restoration of women’s and girls’ independent freedom of movement, and their rights to work and to education to the highest level.”
The economic crisis following the fall of the former government has disproportionately affected women in Afghanistan, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) which estimates that women’s employment has decreased by 16 percent in the third quarter of 2021 compared to men whose employment has dropped by 6 percent during the same period. By mid-2022, the women employment rate could drop to up to 28 percent, ILO’s has projected.
The Taliban have given Sakina and the three other widows a food stamp-like card to receive aid which includes a sack of 45 kilograms of wheat, a bottle of three liters of cooking oil, and a thousand Afghani in cash every two to three months.
Fatima, a 50-year-old mother and grandmother, also lives in the mud house in the heart of Kandahar city. She said she has lost her husband and one son to the conflict, and one of her sons was severely wounded. Her third son is an 18-year-old school student who is unemployed.
Like Sakina, Fatima and her widowed daughter-in-law, Rakma, sold dates and eggs in the streets to feed their five children before the Taliban. But now they can’t work due to the draconian restrictions the Taliban have imposed on women in Kandahar.
The women said they have fallen three months behind on rent. Their monthly rent is 4,000 Afghani or about 45 USD, a significant amount for four women and twelve children whose income has dropped to zero.
The fourth woman living in the house is Freshta, a 21-year-old mother of two, whose husband went missing two years ago. Like the three other widows, she also receives aid which she said doesn’t meet even 10 percent of her family’s needs.
“I must be allowed to work,” she said.