Waiting for darkness to use the toilet: What life is like for women in flood-affected Afghanistan

Women in flood-affected regions of Afghanistan are facing an urgent crisis due to lack of private toilets and cultural taboos over menstruation, local journalists and aid workers have warned.

In some cases, women are not drinking water during the day in order not to have to find private toilet facilities.

“The women told us that when the sun sets and darkness falls on the village, they seek a safe spot away from the neighbourhood to relieve themselves,” Salma Niazi, co-founder of English-language online news outlet The Afghan Times, told Hack.

“It’s tough for them to wait all day … [but] they prefer to spend hours in discomfort rather than be forced to relieve themselves where they can be seen.” 

Heavy rain caused by higher-than-usual temperatures caused flooding in northern provinces of Afghanistan on May 10.

Melting snow from those higher temperatures has added to the flooding, which is expected to continue for weeks to come, according to the United Nations Food Programme.

CARE Afghanistan estimates around 60,000 people have been impacted by the flooding, but that exact figures are nearly impossible to ascertain because the areas affected are hard to reach.

“The aid agencies are encountering different challenges and reaching out to the affected population due to severe damage to transportation, including roads and bridges,” Deputy Director of CARE Afghanistan, Reshma Azmi, told Hack.

Different aid agencies put the death toll from the flooding between 300 and 400 people.

The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021, two decades after US-backed forces including Australia waged war on the regime in retaliation for the September 11 terror attacks.

Despite promising to honour the rights of women, the Taliban promptly enacted bans on their engagement in public life, including stopping them from gaining university education and barring them from working in non-government organisations.

‘Urgent needs’

Ms Niazi told Hack that women face unique challenges in the aftermath of a disaster, due to cultural norms around toileting and menstruation.

Flash floods kill more than 300 in Afghanistan

“They [flood-affected women] have told us that there are only a few toilets and only men can use them, but women cannot,” Ms Niazi said.

The lack of services can increase the risk of stigma and disease.

“They don’t have access to toilets and sanitary products. These are the women’s urgent needs.”

Aid group Save the Children is prioritising the building of toilets and showers, Kabul Director Charity Lukaya told Hack.

“I have actually witnessed it as well myself. There’s no sanitation facilities … We don’t have latrines, we don’t have showering facilities. We don’t have sanitary facilities, like pads and napkins,” Ms Lukaya said.

Ms Lukaya said crisis medical teams segregate the sexes so women and girls feel safe in discussing otherwise taboo issues.

“We segregate men and female, and also in our child friendly spaces, we segregate boys and girls. And because of this, we are able to get to hear about these needs quite easily from the women and the girls in that space,” she said.

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