In less than a month after the Taliban rolled into Kabul, Rabia Jamal made a difficult decision: she would face the hardliners and go back to work at the airport. Islamists say women should stay at home for their own safety, so the risks are obvious, but the 35-year-old mother of three felt she had no choice. Rabia, wearing a navy-blue suit and make-up, said, ‘I need money to support my family’.
AFP reports that she felt ‘very bad’ at home after experiencing tension. As of August 15, only 12 of the more than 80 women who worked at Kabul airport before it fell to the Taliban have returned to their jobs. They are among the very few women allowed to return to work in the capital. Most Taliban members have been told not to return until further notice.
Several female airport workers were standing at the main entrance on Saturday, chatting and laughing as they waited to scan and search female passengers taking a domestic flight. The takeover by the Taliban, Qudsiya Jamal, 49, told AFP that it ‘shocked her. I was very afraid,’ said the mother of five, who is also her family’s sole provider. ‘My family was scared for me — they told me not to go back — but I am happy now, relaxed… no problems so far’. The Taliban severely restricted women’s rights during their 1996-2001 rule, but they claim to have loosened measures since regaining power.
Female students will be allowed to attend university if classes are divided based on gender, according to Taliban education authority, but they must also wear an abaya, a long, covering robe, and a face-covering niqab veil. Alison Davidian, a representative for UN Women in Afghanistan, warned on Wednesday that the Taliban had already reneged on their promise to respect Afghan women’s rights. In the airport, which is reopening after the hurried US withdrawal rendered it inaccessible, Rabia says she will keep working until forced to stop.
The Taliban have decreed that women can work ‘in accordance with the principles of Islam’, but few details have been stated about what this might mean. Rabia, who has worked at the terminal for GAAC, a UAE-based company providing ground and security handling, said, ‘I always feel lucky, and I will keep doing what I love until I am no longer lucky’.
Zala, Rabia’s colleague, dreams of something completely different. She was learning French in Kabul when the takeover forced her to stop and stay at home for three weeks. ‘Good morning, take me to Paris,’ she said in broken French as her five colleagues laughed, ‘but not today. Today I am one of the last women of the airport’.