Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Women's communal baths set to reopen

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KABUL, 28 January (IRIN) - The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on Monday inaugurated the reopening of some 30 communal baths, or hammams, in the Afghan capital, Kabul, thereby resuscitating the age-old tradition for women, which had been outlawed by the Taliban regime.
"The main focus of this project is women," the project manager and gender specialist, Fulya Vekiloglu, told IRIN. During the previous regime, women were banned from using such baths and, as a result hammams - particularly those frequented by women - were neglected or left in disrepair, she said.

From a dilapidated and destroyed condition, however, the bath houses have now been restored, not only to provide original washing facilities, but also new and improved fixtures such as shower rooms, with a stronger emphasis on gender equality in terms of amenities.

At the Karti Sakhi, one of 30 restored hammams in 14 different districts of the city, the Turkish-educated gender specialist noted that in most countries, people went to hammams for pleasure, but in a country where most homes lacked piped water or bathing facilities, such baths took on an added importance. "Hammams have always played an important role in Afghanistan, and can now play a greater role for women as well," she said, noting that venues for women to gather and meet in the city were extremely limited.

"This is the only place where women can meet other women outside their immediate families," Vekiloglu said. "In terms of social and cultural aspects it's very important."

The US $550,000 reconstruction work was carried out by a team of nine engineers, including four women, who were directly responsible for all gender adjustments made during the rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund, in cooperation with the project's engineers, is planning to develop a hygiene education programme with key hygiene messages and visual materials specific to public bathhouses.

The hammams were rehabilitated within the framework of UNDP's Rehabilitation of Public Bath House (Hammam) Programme, a project funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the UNDP and the Municipality of Kabul.

[ENDS]

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