Shared Spaces interviews Mònica Bernabé, the only permanently-based Spanish journalist in the Islamic Republic.
Mònica Bernabé told us that in many parts of Afghanistan “public spaces are, in every sense, spaces for men and only for men”. For women, public life is extremely restricted and, if they do have places to meet, these tend to be closed, exclusive spaces. However, it is also true that things have changed since the times of the Taliban regime when women were obliged by the dictates of Sharia law to dress in the burqa and white shoes were forbidden because ─since they are the same colour as the Taliban flag─ wearing them was deemed to be tantamount to trampling on the symbol of the fatherland. Nowadays, in Kabul and cities in the north of the country like Mazar-i Sharif and Herat, most women have shed the burqa and the practice of wearing white shoes as a symbol of liberation has spread.
The long years of war in the country have left their mark in the streets of these cities, scars of a culture of violence that contributes towards perpetuating male hegemony in public life. The disturbances that tend to erupt at the end of many demonstrations or the frequent dog fights and cock fights are examples of everyday uses that keep women out of public spaces, obliging them to use the streets simply as thoroughfares. Even celebrations are occasions when women have to stay at home as happens, for example, with the New Year festivities. Still worse, in the poorer, more rural zones in the south of the country, women face a much more unjust and abusive situation. Bernabé describes Kandahar, where most women wear burqas, as “an asphyxiating city” because women are rarely seen in the streets. When discussing this deplorable exclusion, Bernabé recalls typical street festivals from everywhere, as processions with music, the Epiphany pageant of the Magi or the Carnival parade. She then expresses her heartfelt desire that, some day soon, such a happiness will reconquer the public spaces of Afghanistan.