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In Afghanistan, why are some women permitted to work while others are not?


We've been asking who's included in the Taliban's Afghanistan. Yesterday on All Things Considered, we heard how the media fit in. It's a democratic institution trying to stay in business under an undemocratic regime. One reporter we met was Toba Walizada, who's 23.

Why did you stay in journalism?

TOBA WALIZADA: (Through interpreter) Because I would like to continue my struggle here. It's very hard for me to leave behind everything and go. I mean, if I leave, who will be the voice of Afghanistan?


INSKEEP: This morning we look at Walizada from a different angle. We heard how she is included as a journalist, but how is she included as a woman?

WALIZADA: (Through interpreter) As you know, humans cannot struggle alone, and us women - we are especially alone for the struggle.

INSKEEP: When the Taliban took power one year ago this month, they sent home many women from government jobs. They weren't allowed to share offices with men. Yet here's Toba in a private workplace. Just as with Afghan girls - some in school, others not - women's careers vary from office to office.

Since the Taliban took over, has anyone told you that you should not be working because you are a woman?

WALIZADA: (Through interpreter) Yes, many times. In the early days when I joined this station, there were lots of protests of women, and I was there to cover them. A large number of Taliban foot soldiers were asking me, why are you here? And they detained me in police headquarters.

INSKEEP: She said the soldiers asked why a daughter, a girl, would be a reporter, but they let her go, and she returned to work.

Do you have any conservative members of your own family who have said you should not be doing this work?

WALIZADA: (Through interpreter) Not my immediate family, but some in my larger family don't approve. My aunt and uncle are not aware that I am doing this work.

INSKEEP: She says those relatives sympathize with the Taliban. She thinks they'd be ashamed if they turned on the TV at the wrong time. Her voice goes out in her reports, but she rarely does a stand-up that would show her face.


WALIZADA: (Non-English language spoken).

INSKEEP: The provisional government seems not to have settled on many firm rules for women working or not working. That leaves space for Toba Walizada, but it's had a different effect on Muzda Noor. She's from a family where the women have worked for generations.

MUZDA NOOR: My mother was a teacher. Also, my brothers and sisters - all of them were educated and went to university.

INSKEEP: Muzda Noor attended college and eventually came to teach in one, and we spoke with her while driving in a car across Kabul. She told her story of living in a rural mountain province far to the east of the capital. Where did you grow up?

NOOR: Badakhshan.

INSKEEP: In Badakhshan?

NOOR: Yes.

INSKEEP: How long have you been a university professor?

NOOR: Almost 11 years.

INSKEEP: Those 11 years mostly coincided with the old republic, which promised rights for women. The country was divided, and the Taliban attacked, so she loved teaching about the American Civil War and how the United States unified afterward. Eventually, she became the dean of social sciences at Badakhshan University. She was overseeing 19 male professors.

How did the men feel about having a woman as their boss?

NOOR: At first they could not - as you know, Badakhshan is a rural province and also most of them are very religious men. And at first they didn't accept me.

INSKEEP: But she showed them a letter from the Ministry of Higher Education confirming her authority. She says she paired that letter with a friendly, reassuring attitude, although she dressed as she wanted.

NOOR: I could lead them and manage their fears about three years.

INSKEEP: For three years?

NOOR: For three years, yes.

INSKEEP: But then one year ago the government changed, and so did her male colleagues. A new chancellor took charge, a professor she'd known in past years from the religious law faculty.

NOOR: And he said to me, you are my former colleague, and also we should have friendly relations, but I should say to you that now it's your job that press students to cover, black hijabs.

INSKEEP: She was supposed to make sure that female students covered themselves and also make them come to campus only in the morning. Muzda herself, as a woman, should abstain from faculty meetings, even though she was a dean.

NOOR: You can send your deputy dean like this.

INSKEEP: You could not attend meetings that were all-male.

NOOR: Yes. And they were very serious, very serious. I thought that my chancellor - his personality was completely changed before the Taliban, after the Taliban.

INSKEEP: Really - the same person?

NOOR: Yes, and his behavior with me. Before that, he was friendly with me, and sometimes we talked with each other. But after that, no, he was a very dictatorial person.

INSKEEP: Dictatorial?

NOOR: Yes. Yes.

INSKEEP: We get out here?



At the end of the car ride, we sat outside to talk a little more about what changed one year ago this August. Her colleagues at the university were all the same people. She'd known them for years. The rules under which they operated have not entirely changed. But she says their attitudes have.

NOOR: Most of my colleagues - they completely changed now. They think they are very powerful, and this government is their government, and also they have the right to push down others, to govern others and manage others. They think like this. And in the past they were a little good, like my chancellor - that he had a good behavior and also treated as a friend with me. But after the Taliban, they didn't like this.

INSKEEP: After a few months, she felt unsafe in Badakhshan and says she tried to get a transfer to Kabul. She took leave, but the university dismissed her for missing work. She cannot say she was officially fired for being a woman, only that she's been fired. Now, the onetime dean of social sciences is looking for another job. And like other women we met, she is applying to foreign NGOs. She feels her chance of being hired by Afghan men is less than it was one year ago.



Our colleague Steve Inskeep, who visited Afghanistan nearly one year after the U.S. troop withdrawal and the Taliban takeover. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.