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Saturday, 8 January, 2000, 01:13 GMT
Afghanistan: Through veiled eyes

Afghan women must follow strict clothing code under Taleban rule Afghan women must follow strict clothing code under Taleban rule

By Rebecca Milligan in Afghanistan

'Pull your scarves well over your head. Try not to be seen'.

For eight hours, we had been making our way in a mini-bus to Kabul on roads which had been mashed up by tanks.

These conditions had made our progress extremely slow.

We were on our way to meet Shazzia, a 21-year-old Afghan girl who I had first met in Peshawar just over the Afghan border in Pakistan.

She had left her home in the city when the Taleban banned women's education.

She works. Her wage alone supports her whole family.

Clandestine meeting

This weekend she was going home. We had arranged to follow her to Kabul.

This would not easy. Under the Taleban, women are barely allowed out of their homes.

If we were seen visiting or even talking to them, they could be imprisoned or beaten - or even worse.

Hence, the anxiety of our translator, Abdullah. Anyone we wanted to film about the plight of women in Afghanistan had to be done secretly. They were at great risk.

I had hidden the camera and hoped that the scarves would hide most of my face and my hair.

I scrambled out of the mini bus and into a taxi - part of an elaborate plan to protect my mini-bus driver.

The Taleban could have punished him if they suspected his involvement during the undercover filming.

I sped off in the direction of a complex of old decaying Russian flats.

It was a clear, chilly morning but even the bright sunshine could not light up this bleak landscape.

The sense of desperation was heavy in the air. After the years of bombing, the area was scarred with huge gaping holes.

At last after what seemed an age, I pulled up outside Shazzia's flat.

I entered the dank stairwell. At the very top the flat, a door was open and Shazzia welcomed me with a smile.

She led me into one room where her aunt and two sisters were sitting on the floor under huge duvets.

In the middle of the room, the duvets covered what appeared to be a small table which turned out to be a heater.

"It is our only way to keep warm", Shazzia explained.

I sat down under the duvets with the women. I was made to feel welcome and offered a cup of tea.

The interview began with Shazzia's mother.

She spoke of their hardship and how she had been a teacher for many years.

Life without an education

What will they do without an education?
Shazzia's Mother, Kabul
Now she could not work under the Taleban. She said that most of the time she simply stayed in the flat.

Here greatest worry, she said was " my two girls".

"What will they do without an education?" she asked.

Shazzia had beautiful, smiling, strong brown eyes. As her mother spoke, they dulled.

She had always wanted to have an education. Even though she was living in Pakistan, she could not go to college. It was because of her that her family were able to live at all.

Great risk

The longer I stayed the more risky it was for the family.

Under the Taleban regime, not even neighbours can be trusted.

Informers are everywhere and get paid well. More tea and lunch was offered but we had to refuse.

As we left, Shazzia's mother handed me a burqa and a chadour and asked me to leave the building wearing them.

They are bright blue and cover a woman from head to toe, obscuring any shape she may have.

It makes it virtually impossible to see either up or down or from side to side. Under the Taleban women must wear them.

As I ran down the stairs I had a sense of what it must be like for Afghan women to wear them.

They are claustrophobic and isolating. In them you lose all sense of yourself.

Dealing with the authorities

Once I had left I had to become an official journalist. This meant going to the foreign ministry and announcing my arrival.

The Taleban officials, all in their white or black turbans, were beautifully dressed.

Some wore dark kohl eye liner. They greeted our translator warmly and shook his hand.

"So where have you travelled from today?" they asked.

"Oh, we have just arrived from Peshawar,' said our translator, smiling.

I began to say something but the Taleban official did not look at me and they certainly would not shake my hand.

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See also:
03 Aug 98 |  South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
08 Mar 99 |  South Asia
Women and the Taleban
06 Oct 99 |  South Asia
Albright warns Taleban on women
16 Nov 99 |  South Asia
Woman publicly executed in Kabul
03 Aug 98 |  Analysis
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
20 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Afghanistan's mindless war
29 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Analysis: India warms to the Taleban

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