Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Kandahar’s street without women

April 14, 2010
Afghan women wearing traditional burqas stand in the street in Kandahar November 7, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Afghan women wearing traditional burqas stand in the street in Kandahar November 7, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Where women really stand in Afghan society didn’t hit home to me until I walked down a busy market street in Kandahar without seeing a single woman. The birthplace of the Taliban, Kandahar is conservative even by Afghan standards.  It is also the focus of NATO’s next big military offensive in Afghanistan,  and I spent a couple of days last week embedded with a U.S. military police unit there to report on plans for the offensive and the mood on the ground

Under a blistering afternoon sun, a group of U.S. and Canadian soldiers and military police led me down a road packed with shops on either side — a bustling market street where you could buy anything from glass plates to spare bicycle parts. At first, I was taken in by the colourful sights and smells, some of which reminded me of my childhood in India – giant bags of something resembling green and beige pasta shells, sweet shops stacked with glass containers of cookies and pastries, fruits and vegetables laid out on the ground, men sitting on a mat and drinking chai.  It was only after a while that I realized that the curious local faces staring at us were all male,  that each and every shopkeeper, assistant and hanger-on (and there were a lot of them) we had seen so far was a man.  Could it really be possible that we had walked about 200 metres along a busy market in the city center without seeing a single woman?

A Canadian soldier next to me chuckled when I mentioned it. “That’s what my wife asks me as well when I send her pictures.  Where are the women? You rarely see them here, and when you do they’re completely covered up,” he said.  The general lack of women also probably explained why the Kandaharis were staring at me like I had just showed up from outer space. At every shop we stopped at to ask questions, a small crowd of boys and young men would gather around to find out what the fuss was about and after a few minutes of giggling and staring, some would take out cellphones to take pictures.

It was only towards the end of our stroll, when we had turned back, that I finally caught glimpse of a woman as she entered a car. She was wearing an all-enveloping burqa, and then another car passed by with three burqa-clad women in the backseat.  So women existed here after all.  I’d heard that Kandaharis were known for their good looks, and a colleague who had done a feature on a girls’ school in Kandahar had mentioned their startlingly big eyes and perfect faces. In the end, I left Kandahar without seeing a single local woman’s face – at least on the streets; the exception being an old woman at the military base I was staying at, who may or may not have been from Kandahar.

Various people to whom I later mentioned the lack of women at the market put it down to perhaps the afternoon time when women stayed indoors and prepared dinner to an unusual coincidence that they found odd as well. 

The next day, I did see a few more burqa-clad women on the streets on another patrol with the U.S. military police team, but trying to stop any to lob a question at them seemed next to impossible as they fled at the sight of U.S. soldiers. The full-cover burqa with its netting across the eyes made eye contact impossible as well. The closest I got was a scrawny 9-year old girl with brown hair who happily followed us around one street.  Out of sheer curiosity more than anything else, I asked her through an interpreter if she too would wear a burqa when she grew up.  Giggling happily, she said: “Yes, when I get to your age.”


at least a burqa will keep away sunburns

Posted by ryan | Report as abusive

for me, burqa will help women to protect themselves from being sexual harassment victims. men are more interested to look at women body’s part (are they?), and burqa help to cover the parts. only to share my opinions.

Posted by fida | Report as abusive

Allah is all covering and beauty lies in covering , kudos to kandaharis , they will never let stranger see their bodies, that’s pride.The real pride of Islam


It is such a shame that in the 21st century women are still treated in such a wretched manner. It is a sad state of affairs if a man cannot look upon a woman and appreciate her beauty without attacking her or violating her in some way. It is my understanding that women are forced to wear these burqa because men find themselves overly stimulated at the sight of a woman. That is pathetic. No person should be subject to another. This sort of thinking would never go over with women in the western world. There was a time when we were treated as possessions and traded as cattle too…..but we fought back. Perhaps some strategically placed poison would rid the Kandahari women of these ignorant men….and then they could start over and teach their young boys and girls to respect each other and not to allow one gender to control the other.

Posted by Sari | Report as abusive

Serves you right for being embedded. The U.S. Military can always be relied on to invade the gay part of any town.

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive

C”mom… progressive… my comment. Please =)

Posted by Sari | Report as abusive

Amazing..are we heading towards 21st century?


let them live, if they are happy with there own traditions and religion, why it tease any one, they never went to US or any European country, objecting their female that they are naked, and man used them as a symbol of sex. so kindly live your own way and let other to live as well.

Posted by hikmat | Report as abusive

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