Freedom Through Gardening

Some say the old Kabul Women’s Garden, a fabled eight-acre enclosure in the Shahrara neighborhood of Kabul goes back to the days of Babur the Conqueror, in the 1500s. More likely it’s from the 1940s or ’50s, when King Zahir Shah was said to have given it to the state. Here women are able to remove cultural restrictions, their burqa, and talk more freely, even putting bare feet into one of the many fountains because there are not men around.

The garden, managed by Ms. Salik, is undergoing a $500,000 face-lift with help from the United States Agency for International Development and CARE International. Women have been assigned to some of the projects, which is unheard of in Afghanistan. The reason for this is the United States Agency for International Development requires 25% of the workers to be female, however in the garden that percent is 50!

In 1978 the communist government demanded more equality for women by banning the burqa and requiring all girls to go to school. However, the revolt of the mujahedeen, conservative, rural war lords erased that in a few years time. They took over the garden, holding cockfights and felling the trees for fuel.

Then in the Taliban era, women were restricted to their homes and the garden eseentially became a dumping ground. When Ms. Salik reclaimed the garden three years ago for the women of Afghanistan, they had to haul 45 truck loads of trash out of the garden.

Now the garden is theirs again. Police stand gaurd at the gates allowing only women to enter (and boys under the age of 9). Inside the gates, all of the security is controlled and managed by women, there are even two female police officers. There is now a gym for women to exercise in or take tae kwon do classes, the women gathered funds for a mosque, and there’s even a little shopping center run by females.

I think it’s amazing how these women have taken something as simple as a garden and created a life, meaning, and freedom from it. It is just further proof that there is healing through nature.

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