BAMYAN, Afghanistan: Nasrin Hassily is busy discussing a classroom project with her friend Nusrat, in a cafe that she visits almost daily after university to hang out with friends.
She is not alone. The Bamyan Women Cafe provides a space for females in a male-dominated society.
“Away from prying eyes and attention, I feel quite comfortable in the café,” 21-year-old Hassily, a student at Bamyan University, told Arab News.
Originally from Balkh province, she came to Bamyan to study “because this place is more secure than other places in Afghanistan.”
The first-of-its-kind cafe in the country was established four years ago with support from German NGO Help.
“We established this cafe for women to feel free, calm and relaxed away from their home,” Manager Aziza Mohmmadi told Arab News.
“In a normal restaurant, women always have to watch what they say and wear, and how they behave. But here they can be themselves,” she said.
“We allow girls to bring their male friends if they want, and discuss whatever they want over a cup of tea. Women need this kind of space if you want Afghan society to move ahead.”
Located in the middle of Bamyan city, the cafe opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. It is abuzz with girls and women from different walks of life socializing, studying, reading or eating.
Fariha Sadat, a 22-year-old handicraft entrepreneur, said it is an ideal place to discuss business with her partner and clients.
She moved to Bamyan a few months ago to expand her business, and feels that “the atmosphere here is safe for women.”
She told Arab News: “I’m very happy to be here. You don’t have to fear suicide attacks or bomb blasts like you do in Kabul.”
Sadat added: “The cafe gives you the kind of space you don’t get anywhere else, even at home. I come here for business dealings, discussing plans and arranging meetings.”
But “to come to this oasis of peace in Afghanistan, we have to pass through so many Taliban-dominated areas on our way from Kabul, and that makes us very insecure.”
Hassily said: “In the last 15 years, women have made great progress. But the atmosphere in Afghanistan is so uncertain and insecure that you never know when the country will be taken over by the Taliban. This is the biggest fear women have.”