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Wednesday, 27 June, 2001, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Inside Afghanistan: Behind the veil

This girl saw her mother shot by Taleban soldiers
An undercover documentary film about the Taleban movement in Afghanistan has shown shocking footage of mass executions, and an insight into the oppression suffered by Afghan women.

Dressed in an Afghan veil, reporter Saira Shah used a hidden camera to film life for ordinary Afghans under the Taleban.

I suddenly wasn't an objective reporter anymore; I was someone actually participating in this

Saira Shah
"I had to wear the burqa which looks like a great big tablecloth. It covers absolutely everything" Saira Shah told the BBC.

The Channel Four crew went undercover because of restrictions on their visa, saying they were only allowed to film inanimate objects.

They were helped by an underground women's group, the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which runs secret clinics and schools for girls.

Saira Shah dons Afghan garb
"From the moment that I was across the border I felt the restrictions on women," said Ms Shah, a British journalist who is half Afghan.

She described how the veil was so thick that it was difficult to breath, and the little crocheted grill for her eyes made it difficult to cross roads.

If she tripped and showed her face or ankles, she risked arrest.

The woman next to her in the car was violently car sick, but was still not allowed to take her head out of her veil.

"I suddenly wasn't an objective reporter anymore; I was someone actually participating in this, I was actually being subjected to the same restrictions," she said.

Female resistance

In disguise, Ms Shah was able to gain unique access to women's lives, and record the horrendous conditions in which they live.

"The first thing you notice when you come into Kabul is the ghost-like figures in their blue shroud-like burqas, begging in the streets," she told the BBC.

You can make a woman wear a veil, but this is our way of showing they haven't crushed our spirit

Woman in beauty parlour
In Kabul alone, she said, there are over 40,000 widows as a result of the war.

Because the Taleban forbid women from working, they are forced into begging - and sometimes prostitution - in order to support themselves and their families.

But the film, Behind the veil, also documents the resistance of some women.

Memebers of the opposition group, RAWA, risk their lives to run secret schools for girls, giving them educational opportunities they would otherwise be denied.

Some women also set up underground beauty parlours in their apartments. Even wearing nail varnish is a crime in Afghanistan.

"You can make a woman wear a veil, but this is our way of showing they haven't crushed our spirit," said a woman in the beauty parlour.


The crew also acquired secretly-filmed footage of a public execution in a football stadium financed by the West.

The footage shows a veiled woman dragged to the centre of the pitch, and forced to kneel facing the goal posts.

She is shot dead to the cheers of the watching crowds.

The team then ventured to the north-west corner of the country, which is still in the hands of the opposition.

Earlier in the year, the Taleban briefly took control of four villages.

The survivors told stories of how dozens of civilians were rounded up and executed.

Footage obtained from a local wedding photographer showed the villagers burying their dead.

Three girls sitting huddled in brightly coloured veils outside one house described how they saw their mother being shot dead.

Their father said they have not stopped crying for weeks.

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See also:

20 Jul 00 | South Asia
Ban on Afghan women to stay
10 Jul 00 | South Asia
Taleban move against women workers
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
08 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Afghanistan: Through veiled eyes
17 Mar 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Tearful farewell to Afghanistan
23 Mar 01 | South Asia
Afghan feminists go online
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