Afghanistan is consistently known for being the worst or one of the worst countries for women. Tradition dictates that single women belong to their fathers and married women to their husbands. In the country, young girls are often sold as brides to older men. Every year, women are murdered because of the men they choose to interact with, a procedure known as honor killings.
As a result of Taliban control, many cafes and restaurants in Kabul were destroyed over the past 18 years. These popular cafes sometimes served alcohol and Afghan men and women mixed with other cultures. Most cafes that weren’t bombed shut down for fear of sparking more violence from the Taliban.
These limited options didn’t help modern Afghan women who were babies at the time of the Taliban’s takeover. Most restaurants in Kabul today reserve their main rooms for men and have separate areas for women and children. This is where the cafes become so important. In the past three years, more cafes have opened hoping to cater to young men and women who wanted to mingle in public. There are also many cafes that only allow women inside. It’s a liberating feeling for many of these women to walk into these cafes and not worry about being harassed like they are on the street.
Fereshta Kazemi, an Afghan actress and development executive, believes that the cafes are incredibly important. “Human instinct is as powerful as religion. The need to connect, to share and love, to make eye contact, is instinctual,” she said.
After the Taliban officially fell in 2001, these cafés became even more important as women’s place in Afghan society grew. Girls and women started attending schools and universities, working alongside men in private and government jobs, and living on their own or with friends without family interference. According to the Afghan Constitution, women must hold 68 out of the 250 seats, or at least two women from each of the 34 provinces. As Afghan women have more freedoms, they need more resources. These cafes allow women a place to become educated, network, and connect with others like them.
Several of the cafes are owned and operated by women as well. One such owner, Mina Rezaee, makes sure that her shop is a peaceful place. Nobody is allowed to harass her female customers for wearing modern clothes or sitting with men. The shops are a place for people to speak openly and exchange ideas, something that can be hard to find outside the shop, as peace talks between local government and the Taliban continue on.
Many women fear that the peace talks will result in the Taliban being allowed back into government, ruining women’s chance for freedom and individuality. On the streets, they are often harassed for the way they dress or act, for being too modern or Western.If these cafes are shut down again, women lose a place where they can truly be themselves and express their own ideas. Farahnaz Forotan, a journalist and café regular, doesn’t want to sacrifice her newfound freedoms. “I don’t want to be recognized as someone’s sister or daughter. I want to be recognized as a human being,” she said.
Featured Image by Ninara on Flickr