The medicine truck was parked in front of the hospital when the nurse came to work that Sunday, August 15, and as she approached the building, she saw the driver standing next to the vehicle, frantically waving her and the other nurses to turn. back.
“She was screaming: ‘All the women must go, sister, please go, the Taliban are here!’” Recalls the 35-year-old nurse. “At first we couldn’t understand it; it seemed impossible. “
Dressed in jeans and a blouse, western-style clothing that she feared she would not be able to wear anymore in Kabul, she and the other women around her climbed into the back of the truck, which left them at home. For three days, the nurse was too scared to leave her home. On the fourth morning, he received a call from the president of the hospital: “The Taliban have no problem with women,” he recalled saying. Please go back to work. Here are tasks that only you can do; We are limited in resources, we need you. “
The nurse spoke to BuzzFeed News to share with readers a “real picture” of what it’s like to be a working woman in Afghanistan right now, she said, requesting anonymity because she fears for her life.
For working women who remain in Afghanistan, the days since the fall of Kabul have brought fear and chilling uncertainty about what their lives will be like under Taliban rule. For months, the Taliban have publicly claimed that they have moderated their positions on aspects of women’s rights. On Wednesday, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told reporters in Kabul that there was only a “temporary restriction” for working women and that it was for their own safety amid the chaos of regime change.
“Our security forces are not trained [in] how to deal with women, ”said Mujahid. “Until we have full security in place … we ask women to stay home.”
But the early days of the Taliban’s reign in Afghanistan have only confirmed what Afghan women have been saying all along: that their home country will once again become a place where women face greater dangers, restrictions and few opportunities. . Women who once were publicly frank On their rights, they have been forced to flee the country, their homes and offices looted by armed men, and posters with images of women have been defaced throughout the capital. The girls have been sent home from school and warned not to return. Hospitals like the ones where the nurse works are becoming gender-segregated: female doctors and nurses can only speak to and treat other women, and all women outside their homes must wear hijabs. Even in areas where the Taliban have yet to start policing women, their return to power has emboldened vigilantes who have threatened women for not wearing a hijab or staying home.
“We’re just waiting now,” said the nurse, who has worked at the hospital for 10 years. “But even we don’t know what we’re waiting for.”
For women like the nurse, the only member of their family who earns money, going to work was never a choice but a necessity. She now dreams of leaving Afghanistan, she said, but fears that is impossible due to her unique circumstances: The nurse lives with her mother and a sister with a disability who requires constant care. Even before a bomb killed dozens of people in the Kabul airport on Thursday, the nurse said she couldn’t imagine how she could carry an elderly woman and a child through the desperate crowd fighting for limited seats on flights out of the country.
“If something happened to my sister, or if I had to leave them behind, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” she said.
Although the nurse did not trust the Taliban or the president of her hospital, she returned to the hospital Thursday out of a sense of duty, she said. In the streets, he said, there were soldiers everywhere, carrying Kalashnikovs and watching as he passed in his hijab.
“The fear was intense,” he said. “They looked at me like I was prey. But I kept saying to myself, maybe they’re not like they used to be, they don’t beat women anymore. They seemed calm, not violent. At least not yet. “
At the hospital, the security people who normally guarded each entrance were missing and the whole place seemed to be turned upside down. He walked in and found that most of the patient rooms were empty; many had simply ripped out their IVs and left the hospital on foot. Those who stayed, some terminally ill patients, a pregnant woman, seemed terrified, he said.
The COVID ward, which the nurse said had been invaded by at least a dozen patients as of the previous week, was now empty. The nurse learned from another nurse that relatives of some patients had decided that the Taliban were a more dangerous threat than the coronavirus and had brought their sick relatives home or directly to the airport.
“We no longer have data on the number of COVID patients in this hospital, or for that matter, in this city,” he told BuzzFeed News. “The Ministry of Health is still updating the COVID data, but none of it is real. Nobody who is sick wants to leave their home and meet the Taliban soldiers. “
Some victims of the stampede were also brought to his hospital for treatment, but they were men, whom he could not treat under the new hospital rules. The nurse said she learned about this new rule from a colleague, who told her that Taliban soldiers had sent her home when they saw her talking to a man with a bleeding foot.
Nurses and doctors must go to the hospital every day to register their presence in the city for the Taliban. Amid the new policies and empty rooms, the nurse is having a hard time motivating herself to keep showing up for work, she said.
Many patients, seeking to avoid the risk of leaving their homes, have resorted to private contact with medical professionals. The nurse recently gave birth to a baby when a pregnant woman showed up in her neighborhood asking for help. The nurse brought all the supplies she could find and walked the woman home, where she secretly delivered the baby. The nurse left the woman a list of medications she would eventually need, but said she has not heard from her since.
The nurse is afraid of making too many home visits due to the Taliban soldiers at the checkpoints that control movement through the city, but she is not sure how to make money. The hospital president recently told nurses that their salaries are on hold until the city’s banks start operating normally again: Banks in Kabul closed on August 15, just before former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani , fled and the Taliban reached the capital. When the banks reopened after nearly a week, it was nearly impossible to get in due to massive crowds. The nurse said she has not been able to access an ATM and is not sure what to do if she runs out of cash. If the Taliban force women like her to stop working, the nurse said, she will have no way to feed her family.
In her neighborhood, the nurse said that the soldiers were not as big of a problem as the common men on the street who had suddenly appointed themselves moral guardians, telling the women to go home, wear a hijab, and show some shame, warning them of the beatings. if they do not comply.
A few days ago, she had an argument with a shopkeeper who reprimanded her for wearing jeans regularly: “It’s good that the Taliban are here to take care of women like you,” she recalled telling her. Since then, the nurse’s mother and a young neighbor have taken turns going out to buy bread and basic necessities for the family.
The nurse spends most of her time indoors now, but her main sources of home entertainment no longer offer any semblance of escapism – television broadcasts nothing but the news. “All I see are turbans, beards and guns,” said the nurse. “No Bollywood movies, Afghan superstar or the chat shows we used to love.” The radio, he said, no longer plays music, but only the religious songs of the Taliban, which “have no melody and sound like a funeral.” ●
Khatol Momand contributed reporting.