Public baths, also known as ‘hammams’, are indeed an old tradition in Afghanistan. For many, this ritual remains the only opportunity to bathe in hot water during the frigid winters.
Women in the northern provinces of Afghanistan are prohibited from going to public toilets, which are regularly used for the rituals of spiritual cleansing and purification required by Islamic law. The decision announced by the Taliban, which has been in power since August, sparked a wave of anger, with state activists seeing the Taliban’s takeover as a lack of respect for their basic rights.
Speaking to the British newspaper “The Guardian”, Winus Azizi, of the non-profit organization Visions for Children in Afghanistan, said that most families do not have sanitation conditions or facilities to heat large quantities of water. A fact of particular interest to women in the northwest, who have already expressed their dissatisfaction with the closure of most “bathrooms” – which, for many people, are the only solution to taking a hot water bath during the winter.
Speaking anonymously to the same publication, a Taliban commander said he did not support the decision, arguing that the new leaders should focus on “bigger battles”.
This was not the first time in history that Afghan women were denied entry to the ‘bathrooms’. The same thing actually happened during the Taliban regime that ran from 1996 to 2001. Many of these public toilets were vandalized and were only used again after the US invasion in 2001.
Heather Barr, who represents Human Rights Watch’s struggle for women’s rights, was “outraged” at “the cruelty of denying women the only comfort in the cold for no reason.”
In Afghanistan, Taliban dominance plunged the country into a deep humanitarian crisis: UN figures indicate that 97% of Afghans could live below the poverty line by mid-year.
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