The Hill That Women Built

Dispossessed war widows from all over Afghanistan converged upon a steep hill and converted it by hand into a cooperative community of women and children

01 July 2012
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On A HILL overlooking Kabul, children fill plastic jugs from a hose connected to the groundwater supply. After a short steep hike to a rocky hillside, they carry these containers to a very special community that has made its home on a slope above a cemetery 13 km east of the capital. More than a decade ago, among the ruins of a fort and rusting military machinery, and with little access to electricity or water, a group of women with help from their children began to build their own houses using the land beneath them. They created a ‘monument’ to the men fallen in battle, and built a community known as Tapāh-yē Zanābād (‘District of Many Women’).

After 2001, widows from across Afghanistan left the shadows of their harsh lives for what was rumoured to be a utopia in Kabul. Widowed in the violence of the previous three decades, they were left without a place to live or the means to take care of their families. Many were forced into prostitution and lived in constant fear of the Taliban’s strict, misogynist interpretation of Sha’ria law. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) placed the number of ‘war widows’ in Afghanistan at more than two million—a result of conflict and civil war. In Kabul alone, there are an estimated 30,000-50,000 widows—many of whom are uneducated, illiterate and lack basic job skills—leading secluded, poverty-stricken lives.

In Kabul—with a population of four million, Afghanistan’s largest and most modern city and the fifth fastest-growing city in the world—while the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, established in late 2001 by the Afghan Interim Administration, and several women’s advocacy groups have championed the rights of women in the country, there has been little respite for these widows of conflict.

Keywords: Afghanistan women Andrea Bruce war widows