Different faces of prostitution in Afghanistan

By at 23 April, 2010, 6:58 pm

Prostitution is not an easily accepted reality in our society. Most of the time, we are in denial that in Muslim societies women do not sell their bodies for money, even if they do, no one will buy. It is actually the opposite, even if a woman does not want, the societal miseries make her do anything for survival and livelihood of the family. While Prostitution in many other parts of the world could be understand as a woman’s sexual desire and of her immoral character; the truth behind it is hardly explored.While prostitution is illegal and anyone found guilty would be punished severely, but the law only punishes the woman rather than removing societal pressures that make women embrace prostitution as means of survival.

In my work on women’s issues in Afghanistan, I came across many women who have at least once sold their bodies to earn a living either forced by a family member or in secret. However, I chose to write about these three women I met three years ago in an old city of Kabul. These three different women have at least one thing in common, that even in a closed traditional and religious society, they were made to be prostitutes, either in public or in secret.

A couple of years ago, I was on a monitoring visit to a rehabilitation center for drug addicts and during the distribution of medical kits for the rehabilitated patients, noticed three women getting the medicine who didnt seem as patients. They were quiet well-dressed and the red lipstick was shining on the faces. When asked about their addiction, I found out that these three are not addict, they come to take the medicines because it can help them overcome the mental trauma they are going through….and someone whispered to me”these three are prostitutes”….. I tried to probe into their life stories and after almost two weeks of talking to them, here is a short summary of their stories :

Rahima, the eldest of the three women was 38 years old and mother of 4 daughters and a son. She returned from Iran in 2004 and has been living in her in laws house. The house was big, scary and ruined during the civil war. Her husband was an iron smith but when they were in Iran, he became a drug addict and could no more provide any living for the family. Rahima remembers the first time that she knew her body could earn her a living was the offer of her husband’s friend, when he came as a guest to their home. That was when Rahima had two of her daughters in the hospital because awild dog had bit them. She said that the clinic asked her to buy two vaccines worth of 6,000 Afghanis to save her daughters and when she sought assistance from her husband’s old friend, he offered her 5000 Afghanis for one night and a promise to find more clients as she earns more experience in this field. Rahima had no other options and accepted and she said, he was the only man she knew who was so loyal to fulfil his promise.

Negine, was the tallest and the most beautiful of the three women. She was around 35 years old and had been living with her father. Initially, I couldnt believe that it was her father who made her a home-based earning prostitute. She said, he died in a fortunate suicide attack last year in Kabul but she continued paying attributes to his legacy. Negine’s father was a cook in a Police Teaching Academy in one of the central provinces and whenever he came home, he used to bring a high ranking police official to their home and she was made to stay with that prestigious guest and entertain him. In his lifetime, Negine could never get out of the house and it was the father who bought her beautiful clothes and make up and encouraged her to look attractive to his superiors. Negine said that her father’s sudden death left a big shop that was built on her money and she could live a better life with that income,but after so many years of entertaining the high ranking police chiefs, she is kind of used to this way of life. She said, she likes when a high rank officer obeys her orders.

Shahperai, the youngest of the three was around 15 years of age. She said, she found herself on the streets since she remembers. Shahperai was a very outgoing, and loud young girl. She used to make fun of everything and it seemed that she had nothing to regret in her life. Shahperai recalled her first experience of using her body to earn money in the busy streets of the expat bazaar, Chicken street of Share Naw, Kabul. She said some three years ago, while cleaning a car in a car park, two men came closer to her and said ” we will pay you – if you show us….” and since then she has been earning through displaying and selling her body.

These were the three women with a summary of their stories. I am sure there are many other untold similar experiences fearing the hypocratic society. We need to accept these realities and be able to confront these injustices inflicted on women.

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Pawan April 25, 2010

I don’t think we should judge prostitution as a profession generally. Forced prostitution is definitely something which should be addressed. I would have loved the post if you had started with the stories first, calling it unlawful rather than prefacing it with prejudiced judgement on prostitution.

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