By Laila Yousufy
On August 15, when the Taliban took over the Afghan capital, a third-year university student, Marzia Mirzaie, rushed to stuff her books and clothes into a bag and left her dormitory. Fearing what the Taliban might do to a single woman, she went back to her family in the southeastern province of Ghazni.
“The day the Taliban entered Kabul, it felt as though the zombies had attacked the city. All the girls [who lived in the dormitory] collected their belongings and quickly left for their provinces,” said Mirzaie, 21, who returned to Kabul when her private university resumed activities in late October.
Over the past 20 years, girls and women filled public and private universities in Kabul, with most traveling from provinces and remote villages where there was no university. Mirzaie came to Kabul four years ago to study computer science. For the first two years, she lived in rented rooms before finding a comfy bed in a dormitory in the west of Kabul.
Now, most of the dormitories are closed, including the one Mirzaie lived in.
The 12 square metres room Mirzaie currently shares with two roommates, was rented with help of a male relative who signed the contract on her behalf. Even before the Taliban returned to power in mid-August, home owners were not content to rent to single women. When the number of single women kept rising as more women were coming to Kabul for work and education, female-only dormitories started to pop up in different parts of the city. To keep the business growing, the dormitories offered services, such as libraries, food services and access to the internet which made life easier for those living apart from their families.
Now, with the Taliban in charge, the dormitory business is dying, and renting as a single woman is once again a lonely and harrowing struggle. Rukhshana Media spoke to directors of four dormitories in the west of Kabul which were closed since the Taliban takeover.
“It has been six days since I have been searching for a room, but house owners refuse to rent their house to [single], independent women,” said Nargis, who left her home in Bamyan to prepare for the university entrance examination in Kabul.
“Last year when many girls from provinces came to Kabul to study, it was easy to find a roommate. Now, out of every 10 girls I encountered, one barely came from a province,” added the 20-year-old Nargis who lives with her relatives.
Zaki Sultani, owner of a dormitory in Kabul, where 80 women used to live, tried to keep his business running. He went to the Taliban and got their approval and his dormitory door was reopened 20 days after the fall of Kabul.
“A few days after we reopened, six Taliban members came to the dormitory and banned boys from entering the library [which was located in the basement of the building] and men from guarding the dormitory. They said I can only come once a week for supervision, but I am not allowed to stay. With these restrictions, we couldn’t pay the bill and manage the dormitory. We were forced to close it,” Sultani told Rukhshana Media.
“Fear of the Taliban and living alone as a single woman in Kabul is now taking a toll on my mental health,” said Mirzaie. “Sometimes I think of abandoning everything and going back to my family.”