Afghanistan has half a million widows, and the number is increasing, says government

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File photo from the "hill of widows," some 15 kilometers south-east of the capital. It is also known as “Zanabad,” the city of women. (AFP photo – March 20, 2017)
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Masooma, left, working at Kabul’s municipality cleaning roads. She lost her husband in a rocket attack 17 years ago in Kabul and since then has been feeding and raising her five children and doing random jobs. (Sayed Salahuddin — AN photo)
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A common scene in Kabul, a widow begging from a car passenger. (Sayed Salahuddin — AN photo)
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Habiba, in the picture, working with her mother Ferooza as a roadside sweeper. Ferooza, the mother, lost her husband 20 years ago during a clash with the Taliban in northern Baghlan province (Sayed Salahuddin — AN photo)
Updated 24 June 2018
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Afghanistan has half a million widows, and the number is increasing, says government

  • Some 15 kilometers southeast of the capital is the “zanabad,” or city of women, built completely by widows
  • Widows are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan

KABUL: The burden of life has made Masooma look twice her age. Her life story in many ways is similar to those of several hundred thousand other Afghan women who have become widows since the latest conflict began here more than 40 years ago.
She lost her husband in a rocket attack 17 years ago in Kabul and since then has been feeding and raising her five children, doing jobs such as cleaning and laundry.

Looking frail and exhausted, Masooma is now part of the army of Kabul’s municipality and cleans roads in the city where the gap between the rich and poor is widening, thanks to the flow of foreign aid that has largely ended up in the pockets of commanders and those with links either to the government or foreign troops, as Masooma laments.

“I hate to beg and am proud of my job. I'm happy to earn a livelihood in a legitimate way,” Masooma told Arab News, sweeping a road and wearing an orange gown and a tight headscarf.

Like the rest of her female colleagues, she cleans the streets by braving the attacks, the rising heat in summer and extreme cold in winter.

Her eldest child is a young man now and he is a bus conductor, helping her to pay the rent for the house and sharing other responsibilities. 

But her life has been a long struggle in a male-dominated society where women are perceived largely as owned by their father before becoming their husband’s property and widows are often rejected or regarded as burdens.

“You cannot imagine the hardships I have gone through. It is not easy to raise five children without a father, without money and a house,” Masooma said.

Widows are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan. They suffer violence, expulsion, ostracism and sometimes forced remarriage, often with a brother-in-law, as reported by the UN Mission in Afghanistan in a study in 2014.

Ferooza, another widow, lost her husband 20 years ago during a clash with the Taliban in northern Baghlan province. She moved to Kabul along with her daughter, Habiba. They have similar jobs to Masooma, with no health or life insurance in a country in the middle of war that relies on foreign aid.

“Life is very tough for widows. It is not easy for women to clean the streets day after day, for months and years, but we do not have an alternative. We are content and feel happy that we are working rather than being a burden on others,” Habiba told Arab News with a mild smile.

According to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, there are more than 500,000 widows in Afghanistan, most of them war widows. Of these, 70,000 are breadwinners for their families, the ministry said in recent statistics given to the media last week.

Some 15 kilometers southeast of the capital is the “zanabad,” or city of women, built completely by widows. The first women settled on this stony-slope location outside Kabul in the 1990s, hoping to escape the stigma they are forced to endure.

Today it is known as Afghanistan’s "hill of widows," home to a cluster of women who have eked out independence in a society that shuns them.

Ninety percent of them are illiterate, some even taking care of as many as eight children, Hashratullah Ahmadzai, spokesman for the ministry, told Arab News.

“We are in a state of war. The number of women who become widows is increasing. Those who fight on the government side and those on the side of the Taliban and the miltants have wives and mothers too. People on both sides suffer and women on all sides are affected more than anyone in this war,” Ahmadzai said. 

War widows who are registered by the government receive some meagre annual help from the ministry, but that does not meet the need of the victims, he said.

Gul Ghotai, head of the statistics department at the Ministry of Women Affairs, said the government lacks any strategy on creating vocational or short-term jobs for the widows.

“The ministry of women has done nothing on this. The government as a whole has failed to address the widows’ problems because it does not have the capacity. It has not even come up with a plan as to how to tackle the problem,” she told Arab News.


India and Afghanistan review their strategic partnership

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, with Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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India and Afghanistan review their strategic partnership

  • Afghan, Indian leaders “reviewed and positively assessed the progress of the multi-faceted India-Afghanistan strategic partnership”
  • The two countries also decided “to strengthen connectivity, including through Chabahar port and the air-freight corridor.”

NEW DELHI: India and Afghanistan reviewed bilateral civil and military cooperation during a one day of meetings in  New Delhi on Wednesday.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which the two sides “reviewed and positively assessed the progress of the multi-faceted India-Afghanistan strategic partnership.”

A press release from the Indian Prime Minister’s office announced after the meeting: “It was agreed to deepen the New Development Partnership in the areas of high impact projects in this field of infrastructure, human resources development and other capacity-building projects in Afghanistan.” 

 The two countries also decided “to strengthen connectivity, including through Chabahar port and the air-freight corridor.”

 “I would like to thank the Indian people for their commitment to Afghanistan's future,” Ghani said in a speech in New Delhi before leaving for Kabul.

“What India-Afghanistan share is deep and binding trust in democratic institutions,” he added.

Modi supported an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace and reconciliation process” and pledged “India's unwavering commitment to support the efforts of the government of Afghanistan to this end, as also for the security and sovereignty of Afghanistan.”

 “Peace with the Taliban is important so that we can concentrate on counter-terrorism. The Taliban is part of Afghan society, ISIS (using another term for the terror group Daesh) is not. We must make that distinction,” Ghani said in his address at the New Delhi-based think tank, India Foundation.

 Commenting on Ghani’s visit, Vishal Chandra of Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), a New Delhi-based think tank, said: “The timing of the visit is significant; he has come at a time when the Afghan forces are under great pressure from the Taliban and Daesh.” He added that Ghani was looking for wider regional support in initiatives to stem the rising tide of terrorism.

Talking to Arab News, Chandra underlined that “there is no question of India involving itself militarily in Afghanistan, but it might step up its efforts to ensure that they have better air capability and they don’t have shortage of ammunition. I don’t expect India to supply heavy weaponry.”

Harsh V. Pant, director of the think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) said: “Despite India scaling up its presence in the defence sector, New Delhi’s military presence in Afghanistan is limited.

“The appetite in India for military involvement is very small; there is no consensus about the military footprints New Delhi should have in Afghanistan. But there is a consensus that New Delhi’s security cooperation with Kabul should be extended and should be robust and that is what India is doing.” 

In his book “India’s Afghanistan Muddle” Pant argued that “India cannot evolve its equity in Afghanistan unless some form of military involvement happens.”

Pant told Arab News: “The visit of Ghani at this time is a sign of a certain maturity in the relationship where Afghanistan feels that India should be kept in a loop. The relationship has grown to an extent that two sides are comfortable with each other in sharing assessment about where the political trajectory is going.”