The blue of Afghanistan

A number of you, after seeing my previous series from Afghanistan, noticed (and commented on) the absence of women.

Well, with this post I focus exactly on the women of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, photographing women there is rather problematic. Just about everyone will strongly advise you against doing so: Photographing a woman (even one in a chador) out in the street may result in you being confronted by angry men or, worse, in her being beaten up. The sad reality is that there is barely worse place in the world to be born as a woman than Afghanistan, with the country’s rural areas being worst.

Here, a woman is a man’s property just like a donkey. Failing to accept a husband’s authority (even when imposed with violence) can result in jail, or in the worst case in a new, more terrible life begging in the street, stripped of all dignity.

Not many women in Afghanistan get married because they’re in love. Most of them are married off, meaning that at an age of 15 – 20 they are sold by their own parents to the best offeror, a man who not unusually is 20 or 30 years older. A more fortunate girl may stay home a little longer, study and even get herself a job, as long as each step is discussed with – read decided by – her parents. She may not exactly get married off, but will be engaged to and eventually marry the first man who proposed himself (to her parents) convincingly enough. Once engaged, she’ll even be allowed to date her fiancé, in her mother’s or aunt’s presence, of course.

Women here are generally not supposed to work, but I hear that an increasing number of men now allow their wives to do so, at least in the cities. However, a number of professions that require contact with male strangers or public exhibition (e.g. flight attendant or singer) may still give a woman a social status that’s barely better than a prostitute’s. Things are changing, however. Women condition is slowly improving, starting from the cities. But the process is slow, particularly in the most remote rural areas.

To foreign visitors, the women of Afghanistan are melancholic silhouettes of an intense blue moving along dusty road sides, alone or a few steps behind their husbands. I wish I had had the opportunity to talk to those women, to ask them about their lives and dreams or wish them a brighter future. I couldn’t. That chador of blue polyester, worn every single day from their puberty on, is an impenetrable barrier, and not only for the relieving breeze in the intense summer heat..

10 Comments on “The blue of Afghanistan

  1. Thank you for sharing this. It is so disheartening to see women so abused. Did you see any way for foreign women to help those women?

    • Thank you for appreciating. Many NGOs (meaning their female employees) work to give Afghan women a better future, by giving them healt care, education, etc. Needless to say, it’s young boys in school age who also need to be educated to respect of girls and all that goes with it. Changes take time, though.

  2. It is so disheartening to know so many women are being abused. Did you see any way for foreign women to help these women? Do you know of any grass roots organizations that are helping over there?

  3. Many countries have thrown billions of $ in this country for military/strategic purposes and in the process – through corruption – created a class of kleptocratic millionaires. When will nations/people of the West force the improvement of women’s lives in Afghanistan by making it a condition for further financial assistance? Where are the governments or people of conscience? I am sorry but NGOs are not the answer. Afghanistan’s male society needs to be forced through economic means to change this inhumane situation.

    • I agree with much of what you wrore, Karl. I suppose by “forced by economic means” you mean by subordinating western economic help to a real improvement of human rights in the country. I very much agree on this, but do not see how that help (just like the unsubordinated help they’ve been receiving for over 10 years) would come to destination without disappearing in the tangle of corruption, the one that created the “class of kleptocratic millionaires”. And even if it did avoid corruption, I don’t see how the thus forced improvement of human rights can become a fact without comprehensive, long-term work on education of children and men (along with women, the primary intended beneficiary). And this is what NGOs have been working on for many years. They may be naive and hope, but they are “the people of conscience”. And theirs efforts are not resultless.

  4. I’m with Karl on this one. I’m a vigorous woman’s rights advocate. But if you look at history, even our own history in America, women have not yet had their centennial to celebrate their right to vote. We’re a pretty sorry lot of humans to put up with these atrocities and inhumane acts against women. Throughout history women have been subjugated through religion. I don’t suppose the great ego of mankind will ever allow a cessation of these travails in some form or fashion.
    Thank you, Andrea, for your posts. Looking forward to your next images from your travels.

    • Thank you John. As I wrote above, I don’t see how you can “force” changes in a remote country and culture, neither by economic nor by military means (experiences from the last 12 years should teach us that, I guess). For sure I believe more in the use of economic means, but even that requires looong work on the education of new generations. You don’t change cultures by force. More pictures coming soon, stay tuned.

  5. It is possible that my use of the word force could be interpreted in a way that is very different from my meaning. Maybe the term “induce” might be more acceptable. But I still maintain that we (the West) have some leverage, right now, to set some serious parameters for human rights and especially for greater equality for women. I believe that NGOs, in general, are doing some wonderful work. BUT their work in only a drop in the bucket of misery. It is the US and the EU – both economic superpowers – who have been financing the political establishment in Afghanistan and therefore must/should put more pressure on the responsible people. We have shut our eyes for far too long to the abuse of people in the name of sensitivity to cultural mores (religion, tradition, etc.). It is time to put our money where change must occur – not in an indefinite tomorrow but now.

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