One Afghan widow sees hope in children's future
The couple had been married for six years and had two children.
Parween, 26, and her sons now live with her mother, her three sisters and 16-year-old brother in an old rented house in Char Qela, in Kabul. Sitting on a mattress with her boys, Noor Ahmad, 8, and Aziz u Rahman, 6, Parween wept as she detailed how difficult it was to be a widow in Afghanistan.
“After my husband’s death, my parents helped me, but my father also died six months after my husband in a car accident.
“When my husband was alive, my family also had money problems, but when both my husband and father died, now it is me that suffers all the problems.”
Besides her husband’s job with its salary of $180/month, Parween used to work as a domestic helper in the house of an Indian diplomat who allowed her and her family to live in one small, furnished room on his compound.
“After my husband’s death, I worked and lived there for six months with my father,” Parween said, tearing up again as she glanced at the photograph of her father.
“But after my father died, I could not work there alone, so I had to give up the job,” she said.
Now she works as a maid for a businessman who pays her 6,000 afghanis ($135) a month.
“I wash dishes, clothes, clean the bathroom, kitchen and garden and take care of the children,” she said.
But because she now has to rent her own home, the money is not enough to survive. Instead of tomatoes, onions and oil, she mostly cooks potatoes, which are cheaper.
“My mother rented a house for 4,000 afghanis which has five rooms. She rented three of the rooms to a guy for 4,000 afghanis, and I along with my mother and our family live in the other two rooms.”
Pointing to a carpet, four mattresses and an old cupboard with few glass dishes in it, she said: “Except for these, I don’t have any other things.”
Her work hours keep her out of the house all day, which means she misses her children, who are looked after by her sisters.
“I wake at 4am every morning, clean everything and prepare breakfast and lunch for my children. After I have eaten breakfast with my children I go to my job.”
Without a husband, or a male adult in the family, Afghan widows suffer because there are so few employment opportunities for women. Some widows are socially excluded, taunted, harassed or abused.
Parween said she always wears a long black chador when she goes to work to try to evade the gossiping neighbours. “Many times they say, ‘She is a young woman, why she is working in other people’s houses’? But they are not aware that I am working to find food for my children.
“Sometimes when I am sick I still try to go to work as I am afraid they will fire me. So when I am feeling sick and tired, I remember my husband and think that if he were alive he would work and find food for my children.
She said she has not received any help from anyone apart from her mother and father.
“My husband’s parents died before we married and he has four sisters which are married.”
And because Parween like many Afghans fled with her family to Pakistan during the civil war, she said she was not able to study, which has hampered her efforts to get a job.
“If I was educated I would not be going door to door, and I would be able to work in an office.”
While Parween spoke, her eldest son, Noor Ahmad, cut in and said: “I will study, I will become a doctor and at that time I will not allow my mother to work anymore.”
Parween embraced her son as she cried and talked some more about her husband.
“My husband was my backbone. He was a handsome and brave man, I don’t want to marry, I will only live for my children.”
Since his death, she has not worn any colour other than black and gun metal grey nor has she or used any make-up for parties.
Parween urged all widows to stand strong to support their children. “I am very happy that I am self-sufficient, that I am working, earning money and can stay alive.
“For the bright future of my children I will never lose hope, I will do my best to work hard and earn legitimate money for them.”
Download “Pajhwok” mobile App, on your smartphone to read and access latest news, features, interviews, videos and photos about Afghanistan.