Afghanistan opens first women-only internet cafe

Thu Mar 8, 2012 11:00am EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan opened its first female-only internet cafe on Thursday, hoping to give women a chance to connect to the world without verbal and sexual harassment and free from the unwanted gazes of their countrymen.

Swarms of hijab-wearing young visitors poured into the small cafe on a quiet street in central Kabul on International Women's Day in a country where women still face enormous struggles even though the Taliban were toppled over a decade ago.

"We wanted women to not be afraid, to create a safe place for women to use the internet," said Aqlima Moradi, a 25-year-old medical student and member of Afghan activist group YoungWomen4Change, which set up the cafe.

Spray-painted in bright colors with smilies, birds and Facebook and Yahoo logos, the modest cafe was named after Sahar Gul, a 15-year-old Afghan girl who was brutally tortured last year by her in-laws for refusing to become a prostitute.

"There are a lot of Sahar Guls in Afghanistan. There are women every day facing violence," said Mohammad Jawad Alizada, 29, who oversaw the cafe's creation and is a volunteer from the male advocacy wing of the group.

"For as long as I can remember, Afghan women have had no rights. She (Gul) is a brave girl who stood up for herself. It is her bravery and her courage that we want to honor here," Alizada, who also works as a social research analyst at a U.S. company in Kabul, told Reuters.

While Afghan women have gained back basic rights in education, voting and work since the Taliban were toppled in 2001, their future remains highly uncertain as Afghan and U.S. officials seek to negotiate with the Taliban to ensure stability after foreign combat troops leave by end-2014.

At the net cafe's opening, high school student Sana Seerat bemoaned the lack of attention given to women: "We never have things that are just for women, everything in Afghanistan is always for men. But we are the same, equal".   Continued...