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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Afghan women speak out
Afghan women refugees at a market in Peshawar Pakistan
Afghan women's voices are rarely heard
By BBC Eurasia analyst Steven Eke

As the US-led military action against the Taleban continues, it is Afghanistan's women who are bearing the brunt of the humanitarian consequences.

The voices of Afghanistan's educated, professional women are rarely heard.

No one has seen happiness in Afghanistan

Afghan woman
But their tales, of both life under the Taleban and the bombardments, reveal an existence stretched to the point of being unbearable.

In the Pakistani town of Peshawar, close to the border with Afghanistan, refugee women hope to find shelter from the immediate danger of the US attacks and the repression they have suffered at the hands of the Taleban.

Bitterness and fear

For Afghanistan's women, deprived of the right to work and to receive an education under the Taleban, the bitterness is compounded by fear for their daughters' future:

Refugee girl
Women fear for their daughters
"It's been about 19 days since we came here. When I realised that the situation there would get worse, I left Kabul because I do not want my daughter to be assaulted by anyone, the Taleban or anyone else, or for us to be bombed," said one woman.

They were not afraid of hunger or starvation, they could accept dying, but not having women assaulted, she continued.

"We're disillusioned with the Taleban and we don't know what to do. They've taken literacy away from us. There's no one to help us, we just look to the sky or to the earth."

Her only daughter cries all day and night to have schooling, to be taught literacy.

"She asks why there is no school, no training. She dreams of school every night."

Hated regime

The hatred these women feel for the Taleban is real. But it is matched by a sense of bewilderment at the air strikes, a feeling that the wrong people are being made to pay.

We do not say that America should not fight the Taleban. They could fight the Taleban, but take the civilians to a safe place

Many of them call for the military action to be targeted much more carefully, and for civilians to be protected.

"I don't want all the countries in the world to support us with food and water or clothing - but to defend us," said another woman refugee in Peshawar.

"We're telling them we don't need anything from them. Why has America intervened in our country? If they really want Osama [Bin Laden], the Americans should go after him.

"We do not say that America should not fight the Taleban. They could fight the Taleban, but take the civilians to a safe place," she said.

Networks of kin

Many Afghans arriving in Peshawar have relatives amongst the huge Afghan refugee community, to whom they can turn for help.

We all started weeping and praying that peace would come to our homeland and that there would be a peaceful solution to the conflict

All the same, the escape from Afghanistan is dangerous and traumatic.

But these women are the lucky ones. They have had the money, or the resourcefulness, to escape:

"No one has seen happiness in Afghanistan. My whole body has suffered badly because I travelled on foot from Afghanistan. I walked for hours in the mountains, " one woman said.

They were put in an uncovered vehicle like sheep, with no water and no food.

"My young daughter could not talk during the journey because of fear - I was very worried that she might die."

The woman said they passed through another high mountain that led through an area where the situation is very bad.

"When we went through it, we all started weeping and praying that peace would come to our homeland and that there would be a peaceful solution to the conflict."

Refuge in Pakistan

In the relative safety of Peshawar, the thoughts of these women turn to those who have not been so lucky, the Afghans who are left behind.

Who will take care of these innocent people? No one has any sympathy for Afghanistan so far

Years of conflict in Afghanistan have not blunted their sense of concern and care. The despondency is still very real:

"As an Afghan woman, I want to say - why, for one person, should thousands of others be killed and destroyed? I'm not sad or sorry for myself, my son. I want to sacrifice myself and my son and I have already sacrificed my husband who was a military general," another woman said.

"I am sorry and sad for the poor Afghans who have been involved in the American bombing. We hear that they have been involved and there are many causalities among them in the Herat hospital and on their way from Afghanistan to Pakistan at Chaman and in the mountains.

Who will take care of these innocent people? Some have lost babies, girls have suffered, on the way to Pakistan. No one has any sympathy for Afghanistan so far."

The BBC's Ian Pannell reports
on people's awareness in Afghanistan of the reason for the air attacks on their country
See also:

24 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistan rejects militants' bodies
23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The tough battle for Mazar
16 Oct 01 | Americas
Why bombing can go wrong
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