A dozen Afghan women employees return to work at Kabul Airport


Published: 2021-09-12 10:52

Last Updated: 2024-04-21 08:57

Source: Al Jazeera
Source: Al Jazeera

Less than a month after the hard-line Afghan Taliban took control of Kabul, Rabia and a group of her female colleagues broke the barrier of fear and braved their return to work at the capital's airport.

The dangers were clear to the employee after the bloody suicide bombings that marked the chaotic evacuation process, and in light of the uncertainty that pervaded the country.

But Rabia, a mother of three, saw no other choice.

"I need money to support my family," Rabia, who was wearing a blue suit, told AFP at the airport, explaining that she felt "tense at home. I was afraid and could not speak. (...) I felt bad, but I feel better now."

Of the more than 80 female employees who worked at the airport before the capital fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, 12 joined the ranks of employees returning this week.

They are among the very few women in the capital who have been allowed to return to work, as the movement has ordered most of them not to resume their jobs until further notice.

Six returning airport employees stood at the main entrance Saturday, chatting and laughing together as they waited for female passengers to be checked on a domestic flight.

Qudsiya Jamal, 49, Rabia's sister and the only breadwinner for her five children, said the Taliban's takeover of the capital had caused her a "shock".

"I was very afraid," she explained in broken English, noting that when she decided to return, her family feared for her life.

"They told me not to come back, but I'm happy and comfortable now. No problems so far," she said.

- 'Take me to Paris' -

The Taliban severely restricted women's rights in Afghanistan under their previous rule between 1996 and 2001, but since returning to power last month, the hardline movement has announced that it will implement a less extreme system.

According to Taliban education officials, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classrooms are separated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, but they must also wear an abaya and niqab.

Last Wednesday, UN Women's Deputy Representative in Afghanistan Alison Davidian warned that despite the Taliban's announcement, "every day we receive reports of setbacks," regarding these rights.

At Kabul airport, Rabia confirms that she will continue until she is forced to stop working in this vital artery that is preparing to launch again in full capacity for the first time since the United States ended its withdrawal at the end of last month.

Under the new laws, women can work "according to the principles of Islam," the Taliban declared, but without elaborating yet on what exactly that might mean.

"My dream is to be the richest girl in Afghanistan, and I've always felt like the luckiest," Rabia said.

"I will do what I love until my luck is gone," said the airport employee, who has worked since 2010 for GAC, which provides ground handling and security services at the airport and is headquartered in the UAE.

Zala, Rabia's colleague, dreams of something completely different.

The 30-year-old employee was taking French lessons at an institute in Kabul before she was forced to stop and stay at home for three weeks after the Taliban took control.

"Good morning, take me to Paris," Zala said in weak French, amid the laughter of her five female colleagues, before adding, "But not now, today I am one of the last remaining airport women."