Pervasive Poverty: A Woman Shines Shoes to Make Ends Meet

From the perspective of Afghans and international aid organizations, Kabuloften referred to as thehungry capital of the world“—currently faces numerous difficulties. The residents of the capital are further burdened with social and economic issues due to the Taliban‘s misogynistic practices. International organizations have warned against donor countries withdrawing their support from Afghanistan. However, those who are uneducated are desperate to make money in any way they can in order to alleviate their hunger. Poverty is visible in many forms on the streets of Kabul. As the current Afghan government considers begging to be a crime, many elderly men and women have resorted to taking on menial jobs such as peddling and shoe shining.

Bibigul, a woman in her sixties, is one of the many who must leave the house to work despite having a heart condition. She is seen polishing boots nearPuleSorkh district in West Kabul. Her husband is unable to work due to a nervous illness, leaving her with no other choice but to work in order to prevent her children from dying of hunger. Alongside Bibigul, there are children who are half her height or shorter, all of whom are in the same situation.

Bibigul, who endured the hardships of immigration four decades ago, recounts that her heart disease and her husband‘s neurological disorder were caused by the harshness of the time, relocation, and statelessness. She is the primary local in the northern Afghan province of Parwan. Bibigul further recounts that wars forced her and her family to flee their home country four decades ago and that they eventually settled in Pakistan. After several decades abroad, she has since returned to Afghanistan.

In a conversation with HashteSubh, Bibigul stated that they had previously resided in Parwan, where numerous wars had occurred. Subsequently, they relocated to Pakistan and, after fifteen years abroad, returned home. They ceased visiting Parwan and instead moved within Kabul. Both she and her spouse were unwell due to immigration, statelessness, poverty, and destitution; Bibigul has cardiac issues and her husband has a nervous disorder.

In order to ensure that her children do not go hungry, Bibigul must work on the city‘s roads. Despite her age, she has only polished her boots. She is the mother of six children, five sons and one daughter. Similarly, to his mother, Bibigul‘s 8yearold child also polishes footwear by the side of the road from a distance.

Bibigul continued, stating that she and her son sit in the same position and paint shoes to make ends meet. She also mentioned that she has a heart condition which makes it difficult for her to work at all hours of the day and night. To make matters worse, she has not been able to find any other job opportunities in the past year. She further explained that she used to do chores for her neighbors in exchange for payment, which allowed her to spend quality time with her children.

Bibigul currently lives in the KutaeSangi district of Kabul. One of her main concerns is affording rent for a home. She states that they must reduce their food consumption in order to be able to pay the rent each month:We pay 3,000 AFN in rent for our home every month. My son and I both work to cover the cost. I choose not to eat bread for myself, as long as my children are content, that is enough for me.”

Hundreds of elderly men and women in the capital are engaging in hard labor, such as polishing shoes, removing scrap metal from buildings, and cleaning up animals, which people like Bibigul cannot afford to do in their old age. This is due to the Taliban outlawing begging and issuing a warning that they will gather up and arrest beggars, leaving the majority of those who had previously resorted to begging out of necessity to now be employed in this line of work.

For over eighteen months, poverty has been a pervasive issue in Afghan society. International organizations have also observed an increase in poverty in the country. Most recently, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that impoverished families in Afghanistan are facing a dire economic situation.

According to assessments by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Afghanistan, the average debt of Afghanistan‘s poor families increased from $114 to $687 between 2019 and 2022. OCHA highlighted the dire living conditions in Afghanistan, with the people of Afghanistan asking for assistance, as reported by this UNaffiliated NGO. OCHA further stated that approximately $4.6 billion is needed for the current year in order to improve the situation of the poor throughout Afghanistan.

The International Crisis Group recently released a report on Afghanistan, noting that assistance agencies are avoiding the nation due to the ongoing ban on women working in nongovernmental organizations. The report, released last week (February 23), highlighted the two recent Taliban orders prohibiting girls and women‘s education and employment. Politicians from the majority of international donors, according to the report, expressed concern that aid would be sent to a country ruled by the mosthateful regime in the world.