Afghan women photographers document the lives of women in Kabul

Everyday Afghanistan features the work of nine Afghan women photographers.

Roqaya, 11, comes to the bakery everyday to help her mother Zakia in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by Mahbooba Hazara/Sahar Speaks, @mahbooba_hazara

After studying photography at the University of Kabul, Mahbooba Hazara decided to turn her lens on a familiar subject — her neighbor Zakia. Hazara refers to Zakia as a “survivor of war,” and with her pictures she wanted to draw attention to Zakia’s daily struggle.

Eleven years ago Zakia’s husband died in a car accident, leaving her as the sole provider for her three children. She bakes bread, usually 17 hours a day, to make ends meet. Her 15-year-old son dropped out of school to help, but her other two children have continued their studies.

When her husband died, Zakia found domestic work outside the home. One night on her way home from work, she was trapped by mass protests. She called her husband’s relative for help, but he wasn’t pleased that Zakia was out alone. He refused to help her. Eventually a stranger helped Zakia to arrive home safely. That day she says she cried more than when her husband died. When her tears stopped, she decided to quit her job and start her own bakery.

“Hopefully other women in my country learn from Zakia’s life story and don’t lose hope, even in hard situations,” Hazara says.

Hazara told Zakia’s story as part of a program with Sahar Speaks, an organization that trains female Afghan journalists. According to the organization, only one in nine journalists in Afghanistan is a woman.

When Aryan Musleh, founder of Everyday Afghanistan, noticed the series published on Huffington Post’s website, he was eager to share the women’s work on Instagram too.

“Their stories show how much our people struggle, how eager they are to work to bring change and improvements to their lives,” Musleh says.

From top, left to right: 1) A photo of Khadem, Zakia’s late husband, hangs on her walll. He died in a traffic accident 11 years ago, leaving Zakia alone to support her family. 2) Zakia works at her bakery as smoke and fire irritate her eyes. 3) Zakia pulls bread from the tandoor clay oven with a long iron tong. She is baking the traditional way by spreading the dough around the tandoor, so that it quickly puffs up and starts to color and emit fresh bread, but unlike the other bakeries, the tandoor in Zakia’s bakery sits in the ground and that makes it much harder to work with. Photos by Mahbooba Hazara/Sahar Speaks, @mahbooba_hazara

That falls right in line with Musleh’s goal for Everyday Afghanistan, which is “to share unseen images and tell the most untold and unheard stories of Afghan people” through documenting ordinary life. While Afghanistan has been at war since before Musleh’s birth, he takes comfort in knowing that many other countries have experienced war and been able to find peace. He hopes that one day Afghanistan will too.

“We are tired of what people think about Afghanistan,” Musleh says. “It is not acceptable to be judged by others when they are not even aware of what is really going on in this country. Every word said and idea about Afghanistan is important to us.”

Sahar Speaks emphasizes not only the importance of having Afghans tell their own stories, but also Afghan women in particular, because of cultural norms that give women better access to each other.

“In a war-torn country like Afghanistan , where people aren’t yet used to media, the contrasts between men and women are much greater than in other places,” Musleh says.

Bakhtawar is a 50-year-old Afghan business owner and mother of five in Kabul, Afghanistan. As her children grew up and left the home and her husband often traveled abroad for work, Bakhtawar became restless so she decided to open a women’s clothing shop. Photo by Nilofar Niekpor/Sahar Speaks, @nilofarniekpor

Hazara’s story of Zakia was shared by Everyday Afghanistan in December. This week the account is featuring the work of Nilofar Niekpor, who documented Afghan businesswomen in Kabul.

“Women are opening their own businesses in Afghanistan, whether men like it or not,” Niekpor says. “In a shop, at a restaurant — the workplace is not just a man’s world.”

One women Niekpor documented, Bakhtawar, faced criticism from her father and brothers when she wanted to open a shop. They argued that it was inappropriate for a woman to start her own business.

“But she stood up to them and became the first woman to own and run a store in Kabul,” Niekpor says.

In the coming months, the account will share seven more stories told by female Afghan photographers.

“Women in traditional Afghan society who work as photographers or photojournalists don’t feel as comfortable as men,” Musleh says. “They face many obstacles and even threats in their own communities. Some of them bravely carry on, but unfortunately many of them are giving up just to be safe.”

But like Zakia and Bakhtawar, Hazara and Niekpor have no plans to “give up.”

“I would like to continue my work as a female photographer,” Hazara says. “I want to represent Afghan women’s lives and voices through my camera lens.”

Zakia and two of her children watch television at home. The family lives in a small room measuring about 10 feet by 13 feet. Photo by Mahbooba Hazara/Sahar Speaks, @mahbooba_hazara

Follow Everyday Afghanistan on Instagram and Facebook to see more stories of daily life in the country. Use the hashtag #everydayafghanistan to participate.

Written by Elie Gardner, a photojournalist, filmmaker, and editor of Re-Picture. She regularly collaborates with editorial clients and humanitarian organizations to tell character-driven stories that dissect how war, climate change, and poverty affect lives across the globe. Follow her on Instagram.

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This article is published by Re-Picture, an online publication of The Everyday Projects. The Everyday Projects is a network of journalists, photographers, and artists who have built everyday social media narratives that delight, surprise, and inform as they confront stubborn misperceptions. We believe in developing visual literacy skills that can change the way we see the world by challenging stereotypes.

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