“People in Afghanistan don't see widows as human beings who have rights anymore”by Jessica Abrahams / July 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
Afghanistan has one of the highest proportions of widows in the world compared with the size of its population. Three decades of conflict—from the Soviet invasion to the war on terror—have left millions of women without husbands, alone in a country that does not treat widows kindly, and where few women are literate or have ever worked outside the home. The average age of an Afghan widow is 35, according to a UN estimate.
Nobody knows how many widows there really are in Afghanistan, but in 2006 the UN estimated there were at least two million, at a time when the entire female population numbered roughly 13m. Women who have lost their husbands see their already limited personal freedoms fall further, since widows are considered to be bad omens in Afghan culture. Options for remarriage are limited: it is sometimes possible for a widow to marry a relative of her late husband, but if she chooses to remarry outside the family she can lose custody of her children.
“People [in Afghanistan] don’t see [widows] as human beings who have rights anymore,” says journalist Zarghuna Kargar, whose own family fled Afghanistan in 1994, when she was 10 years old. Afghan custom dictates strict rules for widows. “In some cases they can’t even wear colourful clothes, or laugh out loud,” she says. “Losing a husband is not only about the pain of losing someone you love or someone very close to you; it is the pain of losing almost every freedom you have as a married woman.”
Kargar, now working for the BBC in London, has been documenting the lives of some of these war widows.
She meets Marzia, a widow at just 26 years old. Married when she was 19 in northern Afghanistan, she begged her husband to leave the army, but he believed he had a duty to protect their country. She spoke to him the day he died. “He called me at 8 o’clock in the morning,” she tells Kargar for the upcoming documentary. “He told me ‘I will be coming home in two days.’ He told me there was no danger; I was relieved.” Later that day, his car hit a landmine and her husband was killed.