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Off to work with new resolve

Afghan women inch back into jobs, while men remain reluctant.

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Marzia Adeel wears her head scarf, a Dolce & Gabbana knockoff, pushed far enough back that it sometimes slips off and needs readjustment. Her black mascara, fuchsia lipstick, and red nail polish - all verboten under the Taliban - are for her statements of freedom. Her patent-leather Mary Jane platform shoes are definitely not what she was looking at the day a Taliban policeman a year earlier beat her in a shoe store for lifting up her burqa: high heels, also banned by the Islamic regime, are Kabul's favorite fashion statement that seems to peek out of the bottom of every young woman's burqa.

For seven years before the Taliban came to power, Adeel had been working at Kabul's only radio and television station, starting as a student intern and working her way up to reading newscasts and writing articles.

Though she completed a master's degree in engineering, she had a passion for literature - and for speaking her mind - that drew her to the studios of this decrepit recording station.

"I feel the radio and television is my second home," says Adeel, who speaks a halting English that was flourishing before the Taliban shut down the language school where she was studying. "I missed it so much."

Adeel and other women who had professions before the Taliban wrested control of most of Afghanistan in 1996 have been gradually inching back to work. Women with "bare faces" - a head scarf to cover hair is still de rigueur - can now be seen on the nightly news on Kabul Television, where Adeel serves as a newscaster once a week. But there is hardly an uncovered female face anywhere in the streets and shops of Kabul, and the burqa - which literally means covering or tent - is worn by all but the very young or old.

The ubiquitous presence of what looks to foreign eyes like ghosts painted in shades of azure and aqua may show either how rare a woman Adeel is, or how slow the process will be of bringing women back into the workforce and getting girls educated and up to speed.

The United Nations estimates that only about 10 percent of the nation's women are literate, compared to 25 percent of men. The country's new minister of higher education says he will try to institute catch-up classes for girls who would otherwise be entering university next semester but haven't had a chance to study for five years. And Hamid Karzai, leader of the country's interim six-month government, says that women will "have rights due them under the country's law."

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