Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
New Women's Park Welcomed in Afghan Province
Afghan women in Bagh-e-Babur, Kabul (Photo: Ninara/Wikimedia)
Gender rights activists have welcomed the announcement that a park in the southern province of Khost will finally be allocated for the exclusive use of women.
But they argue that having just one open space of this nature is far from enough. Afghanistan’s conservative traditions as well as security concerns mean that women are uneasy about visiting public parks if unaccompanied by male family members.
Around the country, there are a number of specially created recreational areas open only to women allow them an opportunity to meet friends, enjoy nature and socialise in peace.
They also often include facilities for women to set up stalls selling food and drink or arts and crafts.
According to Khost mayor Mohammad Basir Mohammadzai, the city currently had seven green open spaces, three of which were in too bad a state of disrepair to be usable.
One of the remaining four had been allotted for use as a women’s garden, but this provision had never been enacted.
Mohammadzai blamed previous local administrations for renting that particular space for male-only use.
“We have decided to end the contract of this park and hand it over for women’s use as well as renovating it,” he said.
Khost resident Gulalai said that the lives of local women had massively improved since the fall of the Taleban in 2001.
Women now had much better access to education, with thousands graduating from schools, technical colleges and universities. There were also job opportunities that had never previously existed.
But Gulalai said that issue of safety and conservative traditions meant that women were still largely confined to a life lived indoors. A park would give them rare access to fresh air and a feeling of freedom.
“All our lives are spent inside houses and confined within walls,” she said. “It wouldn’t matter so much that men prevented us from walking freely through the city if we at least had the ability to go to women-only spaces where we could find everything we needed.”
Rafiq Junbish, a psychology lecturer at Khost’s Sheikh Zayed university, noted that all human beings found solace from spending time in “green, clean and lovely environments”.
Afghan women were particularly vulnerable to depression, he explained, due to the pressures of their conservative society, with strict gender segregation and traditions that meant they spent much of their time indoors.
“[The provision of a women’s park] shows them that they are also part of this society, that there are those who respect and care about them,” he continued.
But others argued that this provision did not go far enough.
Provincial council member Zohra Jamal, who is also the head of the women’s committee, said that there should be several parks for women in Khost.
After all, she pointed out, they made up half the population and under Afghan law had the same rights as men.
“I am surprised at why men want everything only for themselves and overlook women’s rights,” she said, adding, “Every day I see what happens when women accompany men from the regions to Khost City for various reasons.”
With no public spaces set aside for women, they were just left to languish in the street.
“They sit under the sun in hot weather, or in the rain, on the soil or in the dust,” Jamal continued.
Khost mayor Mohammadzai said that more open spaces for women were being planned.
“After the reconstruction of this park, we are planning to make several other such spaces in the city and in the suburbs for women,” he said. “This will help boost women’s economic situation as well as providing recreational centres.”
As yet, there is no date set for the inauguration of the new women’s only park.
The acting director of the department of women’s affairs, Malalai Wali, said that she had visited the Khost governor several times to enquire when the facility would be opened.
“The governor gave me some of the relevant documents and papers and promised me that he would renovate the old park and hand it to over to the women, but the exact date is not yet clear.”
Mobariz Mohammad Zadran, the spokesman of Khost’s governor, confirmed that a decision had been taken to transfer the park in question over to the sole use of women as soon as possible.
“Of course, the reconstruction and maintenance of the park is the municipality’s responsibility - and the revenues would go to the municipality - but there will be facilities for women there.”
Zadran added that shops would be built inside the park for women to both run and use.
Hamid Shah, head of the provincial department of finance, said that this was crucial, as many women had received training in handicrafts and similar fields but were yet to find a market for their products.
“If this park opens, the department of finance will help women in every economic field and will work to solve their problems.”
Khost city resident Omar Bibi, who supports her whole family by making and selling traditional crafts, hopes the new park will transform her economic situation.
She said that she struggled to make a living because she could not sell her products directly.
“The shopkeepers abuse our situation and buy things cheaply from me,” Bibi explained. “If a place was built for women where they can sell their products, I would also market my things directly and earn more, but right now there is no such place for women in Khost.”
This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiative, funded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.
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