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the hill that women built by andrea bruce

on a hill overlooking kabul, with little access to electricity, more than one thousand women have made their own houses, brick by brick, from the land beneath them. they have created what is known by afghans as tapaye zanabad - “the hill that women built.”

widowed by the violence of the past 15 years, these women were left without the means to take care of their families, let alone a place to live. many were forced into prostitution and lived in constant fear of the taliban’s strict interpretations of sharia law.

the united nations development fund for women places the number of ‘war widows’ in afghanistan at more than two million. many are uneducated, illiterate and lack basic job skills, and lead, as a consequence, secluded, poverty stricken lives. as one of the hill’s inhabitants put it, “it is better to be dead than be a widow in afghanistan.”

beginning in 2001, widows from all corners of afghanistan left the shadows of their harsh life for the rumor of a utopia in kabul made just for them. the abandoned government property they live on, once an outpost for the soviets, is now organized by the women in commune fashion.

aneesa (pictured above), with few relatives and no work opportunities for her as a woman, came to the hill after her husband, a soldier, was killed. “once you become a widow and live alone, people are strange toward you. they say a lot of bad things,” she said. “we feel more comfortable when we’re around other widows.”

but it was tough going at first, as police would tear down the homes and walls. but, she says, “i would rather have died than abandon this place.” with little help from the government or international donors, however, the hill can only offer mere refuge to these women.

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