Welcome to Afghanistan’s Women-Only Internet Café!
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Not known for having the freedoms that most of us enjoy, Afghan women are often “supervised” by men, whether they are brothers, husbands, fathers, or other relatives. However, the group Young Afghan Women for Change have rallied to create a brock-and-mortar hangout for women who want to freely surf the internet. The Sahar Gul Internet Café opened in Afghanistan’s capitol last week, providing one more place where women can do their web thing without worrying about being watched or harassed by men.
Located in Kabul, the café is staffed with all women and features 15 laptops that were donated by a private company. Free internet services were also donated to the café by a telecommunications firm for a year while the venue builds a profit or finds another way to connect their new users. The idea for the café came about after YAWC conducted a survey among Afghan women, asking them about their concerns using the internet. They revealed that not only were they uncomfortable using the internet around men, but they were often harassed by men in public internet cafés.
However, while the Sahar Gul Internet Café has been a great success for YAWC, they will not be stopping here. In fact, they’re hoping that the Kabul location will be just one of many more throughout Afghanistan. Obviously, women in Kabul are not the only women experiencing problems using the internet around men.
“In every province where women use the Internet, they have the same problem,” says [YAWC member Zafar Salehi]. “We can hopefully expand this initiative to other places.”
Part of the initiative is more surveys, talking to more Afghan women, and seeing that their needs are met.
The café’s namesake, 15-year-old Sahar Gul, was the victim of severe and horrifying domestic abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws. She was only 14 when she married her husband, who was 30. When her parents hadn’t heard from her in months, they contacted authorities, who found her locked up and starving in a windowless room, her hair and nails pulled out (by her mother-in-law), and several other horrific injuries caused by her husband’s family. It hasn’t been confirmed, but this all happened when she refused to be forced into prostitution. While the husband has not been found, the rest of the family has been arrested.
And that’s far from an unusual case in Afghanistan, sadly. It’s also why places like the café named for Sahar Gul are so important to women in the country who need more places to exercise their independence.