Christmas almost upon us, the cold snap coming to an end, shopping for spices in the fabulous market of this fine city, the friendly stallholder asked me how I was. A dangerous question to a writer partial to telling it like it is. A bit down, I answered. Sad… voice quavering, eyes brimming… for the women of Afghanistan. Sad and angry. A slight embarrassment on both sides, was followed by a short conversation on misogyny, as, containing my tears, my paprika and turmeric was weighed and bagged up.
Two days earlier a man euphemistically known as Minister for Education had dealt another painful blow to the disenfranchised Afghan women, yet another restriction added to the list of Do Nots diminishing their lives. As if taking pleasure in the pain he was about to inflict, this latest pronouncement was made on the very morning secondary schools were supposed to reopen, queues of eager girls turned away, many in tears; they were also banned from returning in March. And to ensure their countrywomen continued living their lives shut away in shrouded servitude, for good measure, this fool of a minister added an indefinite ban on university education. They buried our dreams, a teenage girl said of this latest act of lunacy, this hijacking of her future, this mutilation of her life, destruction of hope. Entrenched in their inhumanity, women have also been banned from working for aid organisations.
And we let the Taliban do this. The US and UK governments allowed these misogynistic men to plunge their poor country into ever greater poverty. Well, a load of voiceless women in a failed state… no oil to wheeler-deal over, no great wealth at stake, no nuclear-powered tyrant to persuade or trade with. What are we supposed to do? Something, surely. Something more than this shameful retreat, this abandonment.
Early New Year, again working for The Times, in the process of roughing out a couple of ideas, my partner suggested a possible reprise of a seasonal favourite: the talking camel. The plight of Afghanistan’s women still on my mind, I suggested, angry as they must be, that the women should ‘speak’, not the riderless, Magi-less camels, and I gave them their words.
Below, with a tint added, is the pencil rough of the cartoon I believe should have appeared in next day’s newspaper. But sadly, as often happens with news outlets, the idea on national politics won out, the voiceless, powerless women, in one of the poorest countries in the world, overlooked by the wise newshounds. Which is why I’m adding my ‘shout out’ for them now. Barely a whisper, but something, something.