Many liberals backed the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, believing it would end women's servitude. I met dozens of women, from a young MP to a serial killer, to discover whether things are betterby Charlotte Eagar / February 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
Shirin Gul is in the warder’s office in the women’s block of Kabul’s Pul-i-Charki jail, one eye on the Indian soap blaring from a television in the corner. Plump and small, smooth-skinned at 50, she simpers at the male warder and me with rank intimacy.
“I didn’t kill anyone,” she says, putting her hand on my knee, coming so close I can feel the warmth from her face on my cheek. “My husband did it. He’s in jail with my eldest son. But everyone is telling lies about me. Two days ago the vegetable seller said to me, ‘I hear Shirin Gul is in here. I know her.’ He didn’t even realise he was talking to me.”
A gold and turquoise ring glints on her hand as she flicks her tears away. “It’s bad, in Afghanistan,” she says, “for a woman to be talked about.”
Gossip is the least of her problems. Shirin Gul is awaiting execution for feeding 27 men poisoned kebabs and selling their cars over the border in Pakistan. Her death certificate is on President Hamid Karzai’s desk. Her victims were mostly taxi drivers, their bodies found buried in the gardens of her houses in Kabul and Jalalabad. If Karzai signs the certificate, Shirin Gul will become the first Afghan woman to be executed since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
“She used to lure the taxi drivers in with offers of food—it’s our Afghan code of hospitality,” says a neighbour, Ahmed. Any visitor to Afghanistan can vouch for the constant offers of food, green tea and little sweets, and for how it can be offensive to refuse them. “The police found seven bodies here,” Ahmed continued. “The smell was terrible.”
“More like 11,” says Abdul, another neighbour. “The owners of the house moved back into it—nobody would rent the place. But at night their beds kept shaking. So they dug the floor up and found more bodies. She killed my cousin. He was a taxi driver, on the Jalalabad-Kabul road.”
“Shirin Gul represents everything that Afghan men believe justifies their treatment of women,” says a journalist who has spent many years in Afghanistan, as we stand on a roof overlooking the ploughed mess of Shirin Gul’s garden. “They think women have such strong sexual desires that if they aren’t locked away, all hell breaks loose.” In Shirin Gul’s case, the word on the street…