To Be a War Widow in Afghanistan

Reprinted from Latin American Herald Tribune

KABUL – Afghanistan is currently home to nearly two million widows and, as the country faces a new conflict, women like Janat Bibi are often forced to become the sole providers for their large families.

When her husband died at the front during the war against the Soviets (1979-1989), the septuagenarian Bibi decided to follow tradition and not marry again, caring for her two daughters and a son from her difficult position as a woman in an extremely patriarchal and conservative country.

Then a young woman of fighting spirit, she spoke to EFE of those hard years when she worked in the countryside and in her neighbors’ homes as a laborer, having no choice but to accept donations from the wealthy.

Bibi spent her days in the beautiful but poor village of Shema, in a valley dotted with green trees in the eastern province of Nangarhar and slowly her children grew up, married and gave her grandchildren.

In 2017, the family had 19 members, led by Bibi’s 45-year-old son and her two grandsons, Gulab, 27, and Sikandar, 25.

The three joined the ranks of the police, considered a good job in a country where millions are unemployed, bringing happiness to a family that with around $500 a month no longer depended on handouts or hard field labor.

However, happiness was short-lived when two months ago the Taliban killed the three policemen in an attack in the southern province of Zabul.

The eldest male in the family is now 8 years old, leaving Bibi once again in charge of bringing bread to the table for her seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and three widows.

They have all been forced to work in the fields, cultivating beans and maize, the most popular crops in the mountainous village, where agriculture is the only way to make a living.

Many Afghan widows marry their brothers-in-law after the death of their husbands, but the women in Bibi’s family have been left without a single adult male and must seek their own life.

Bibi, her daughters and daughter-in-law are not alone as the United Nations estimates that in Afghanistan there are about two million widows, most of them war widows, a list that grows every year with the deaths of thousands of security force members, civilians and even Taliban militants.

Of these, less than 100,000 receive a monthly pension of $75, in many cases because of the ignorance about the existing possibility or the inability to travel to big cities to claim help and face a long bureaucratic process.

The three widows of Bibi’s family have borrowed $4,600 over the last two months to pay for their relatives’ funeral and support their relatives.

“We did not receive any help from the government after losing our children,” said Bibi.

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