Being a woman on Kabul streets

Women crossing the Sher Shah Mina St. (the road to Kabul Uni). Kabul / Sep. 2010

Today I saw an episode of Shabkhand (Farsi video), a comedy talk show on 1TV hosted by Asef Jalalai, one of Afghanistan’s most popular stand up comedians. The guest was the self-satisfied director of a horrible Afghan soup opera on 1TV, whose childish braggings aside, told a couple of good stories.

One of the rather funny stories he told was a real one happened on the set of his show on a Kabul street:

We were on the street to shoot a small scene on location, where the actress Amena Taqavi was waiting to stop a Taxi, get into the car and drive away. She was standing alone on the street and the Taxi  driver was waiting for me to shout “action!” to move, but before I could open my mouth, a random guy in a Toyota Corolla pulled over beside the actress and asked her to get into his car. My assistant waved at the guy to go away, but he insisted to “pick up” the girl, “it’s none of your business, I’m taking her!” he yelled at him. Finally my assistant went closer to him and explained that the girl is not a street woman, she is in the middle of a TV scene right now. As soon as the man noticed the camera and the crew, left the scene and let us do our five minute work.

As awkward and sad as it sounds, this story is the real life of women on  streets of Kabul. A couple of months ago, a BBC Persian TV reporter (Farsi video) followed two young women on a Kabul street for 10 minutes and he counted 6 cars attempting to pick them up by seducing or threatening words.

In part, this dirty culture has roots in street prostitution in Kabul. In a city of five million people, of whom the vast majority are poor, with a large population of widows, the growth of underground urban businesses like love trade is quite natural. Unlike other similar cities like Tehran and Lahore, the problem in Kabul, is that there are no (open secret) red light areas, where the prostitutes would work, therefore any woman on any street in any part of the city, by default, is regarded as a slut. Talking about his issue in public is a social taboo which makes it more difficult to find a solution; you can’t solve a problem that you pretend doesn’t exists. Afghan men, as far as I know, would not volunteer in speaking up on this matter, so it’s up to the Afghan women – the victims – to take action and raise their voices by better means than occasional street rallies.

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