Years After Taliban, Afghan Women Fare A Little Better

Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, the situation for women there has improved marginally. Repression continues, especially in the rural areas.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Expectations are powerful and relative. What we expect to happen shapes our perception of everything. If those expectations are modest, incremental change can appear significant. If expectations are high, anything less can be heartbreaking.

It's been nine years since the U.S. overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan. Since then, Afghan women have been taking stock, measuring their expectations for what life was supposed to be like after the Taliban with reality. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on ABC News today that womens rights wont be sacrificed in any potential reconciliation deal with the Taliban.

I visited Afghanistan earlier this month and spoke with several women about what they hoped their lives would be like at this point.

(Soundbite of conversations)

MARTIN: Life is pretty good for Shakila Sharif. She runs a small souvenir store on a NATO military base near Mazar-i-Sharif, in the northern part of Afghanistan. She and other shopkeepers here call out to patrons, luring them in to survey their carpets and jewelry

Ms. SHAKILA SHARIF (Owner, Souvenir Store): Salam alaikum. (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: She can support herself and her family on her meager income from the store and she is content.

Ms. SHARIF: (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: My life is much better than it was under Taliban, she says. I work here and nobody bothers me. I walk freely without a man escorting me around. God help us, she says, the future will be even brighter.

And thats true for almost every woman you speak with in Afghanistan, life is unequivocally better than it was under the Taliban. But other women here wanted and expected more.

Gul Maky Siawash is one of them. She ran as a candidate for parliament from Mazar-i-Sharif. A lot has changed in nine years, she tells me. Women can walk around freely without a burqa; girls can go to school; and shes proud to have the chance to run for political office. But she says women are still shut out of public life.

Ms. GUL MAKY SIAWASH (Former Parliamentary Candidate): (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: During the past eight years, she says, the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai has given short shrift to women's rights, and any positive change has been hollow.

She says only a handful of women have been appointed to top government positions. And even then, they arent given any real power. She expected more. And shes afraid human rights have fallen off the radar for an international community made numb to the plight of Afghan women after nine years of war.

Ms. SIAWASH: But peace is not just cut of war, or finish of war. But peace is social justice.

MARTIN: Thats a refrain I heard a lot when talking with Afghan women, and men, for that matter: peace is more than just finishing the fight.

Ms. HUMIRA HAMID: How are you?

MARTIN: I'm good. How are you?

Ms. HAMID: Fine.

MARTIN: This is Humira Hamid. I first met her in 2004 when she was a student at Kabul University. She's since graduated with her Bachelor's degree, married, got a good job at an aid organization and had a baby girl. And in many ways, she is living the life she always wanted. But Afghanistan is not where she thought it would be in 2010.

Ms. HAMID: Still there are places where Taliban have the power there and they are making the judgments. They are - like, they are ruling that district or the places where they are.

MARTIN: She recounts to me a recent news story of a pregnant woman in Baghdis Province, a young widow who was beaten and shot by the Taliban for sleeping with a man out of wedlock.

Ms. HAMID: I heard that she was - her baby in her belly was six months. And first, the baby was aborted when the woman was alive and then she was killed.

MARTIN: This was the kind of thing that wasn't supposed to happen in Afghanistan, after the U.S. and NATO overthrew the Taliban. This is not what she expected. She intended to be able to raise her daughter in her home country, but now she is not so sure. The security situation makes it hard to plan anything.

Ms. HAMID: I may not be here in Afghanistan. But still we dont know because people in Afghanistan, they cannot make a concrete planning due to security situation. So this is the only thing that I can say is that I'm not sure whether I will still be here or not.

MARTIN: One thing is for sure: She is learning to adjust her expectations.

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