Surrounded by a high fence topped with razor wire, there is one small patch of open space where children being kept with their mothers in Badam Bagh prison play. Nearby women hang out their laundry. The two story building is only six years old but already it is grimy and neglected looking. On balconies obscured by mesh and steel bars women sit and smoke.
Naebi said inmates attend a variety of classes during the week, ranging from basic literacy, to crafts and sewing, with the intention of giving the women a skill once they leave the prison.
Inside the stark building, six people often share a small room that is their cell. Three sets of bunk-beds line the walls. In some of the beds infants tucked under grimy blankets sleep while their mothers tell their story.
Nuria, dressed in maroon colored clothes from head to toe, quieted her infant boy as she told of going to court to demand a divorce from a husband she was forced by her parents to marry. Defiant even in prison, Nuria said ‘‘I wanted to get a divorce but he wouldn’t let me go. I never wanted to marry him. I loved someone else but my father made me. He threatened to kill me if I didn't.’’
Nuria had pleaded with her father before her marriage, begging to marry another.
‘‘When I went to court for the divorce, instead of giving me a divorce, they charged me with running away,’’ she said. The man she wanted to marry was also charged and is now serving time in Afghanistan’s notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison, one of the country’s largest prisons, overcrowded and with a reputation over the last several decades of maltreatment.
At the time she went to court Nuria didn’t know she was pregnant. She gave birth to her son in jail. Although the baby is her husband, who has offered to have the courts set her free if she returns home, Nuria said she has refused.
‘‘He wants me to come home now because I have his son but I said ‘no. I will wait until my sentence is up,'’’ in eight months, she said.
Twenty seven year old Adia left her husband, a drug addict, seeking shelter with her parents. They wanted her to return to her husband, who followed her demanding she return.
‘‘Instead I escaped with another man but it wasn’t a romance. I was desperate to get away and he said he would help me but he didn’t he just left me. I went to the court. I was angry. I wanted him charged and my husband charged but instead they charged me and sentenced me to six years. I went back to court to appeal the conviction and this time I was sentenced to seven and a half years.’’
Seven months pregnant, Adia will have her baby in jail. Fauzia isn’t sure of her age. She looks to be early 60s. She stares out of the prison bars. Already seven years in jail, Fauzia will serve a 17 year sentence for killing her husband and her daughter in law. Expressionless she tells her story, rolls up her sleeve to display a mangled elbow where her husband had smashed her with a stick. She was his fourth wife.
‘‘I was in one room. I came into the next room and they were there having sexual relations. I found a big knife and killed them both.’’
Zubeida, the women’s activist, said despite what she calls a veneer of change, little is different for most Afghan women.
‘‘We have the appearance of everything, but when you dig in deep down below the surface nothing fundamentally has changed. It has been tough. It has been really tough,’’ she said.
Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be reached at www.twitter.com/kathygannon