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How a Restaurant in Kabul Empowers Survivors of Violence against Women

Noorjahan Akbar

I recently went to Afghanistan to spend some time with my family. The highlights of my trip were getting to know my three-year-old nephew and spending hours doing nothing with my mom and sisters. I also discovered a small piece of heaven in my hometown.

Bost Restaurant is a social enterprise owned and managed by Afghan women. The woman who founded it, Mary Akrami, is a longtime advocate for women’s rights, and the wait staff are survivors of gender-based violence. In a recent conversation, Mary jan told me, “One of the main reasons for opening the restaurant was to provide a path to economic self-sufficiency for the staff, who live in a shelter after having escaped forced marriages and violent households.” These details alone are enough to make Bost a special place, but what captured me was the atmosphere.

When you enter the restaurant, you’re greeted by one of the young women who stand by the door. The tables are covered with bold, red tablecloths, and the walls are adorned with photos of trailblazing Afghan women, including the country’s first ladies. Bost does not try to hide the fact that it’s run by women–instead, it exudes pride. The joyful voices of women working in the kitchen and (on most days) Farhad Darya playing through the speakers gives the restaurant a warm acoustic. The food is affordable, authentic, and addictive. I am going back to Kabul soon, just for the Mashawa.

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Unlike other restaurants in Kabul, most of the customers at Bost are women. With their headscarves nonchalantly resting on their shoulders, many, including myself, feel a different sense of freedom and safety there. While at Bost, I often thought about all the times I was gawked at or harassed walking into or out of other restaurants, and how a night of family fun could easily turn into a tense confrontation with a group of young men staring or making lewd comments.

Perhaps it is because it feels so safe that Bost has quickly become a gathering place for the progressive women of the city. Free of the harassment that is too common in many public places, the restaurant is a warm and calm place for women and families to spend time together. Unlike many “women-only” spaces that contribute to gender-segregation, Bost is open to women and their family members, including men. Men are not allowed to come in alone, but it is a perfect place for a family meal or a birthday party, or, as in my case, getting lunch with Free Women Writers members and discussing our plans for fighting patriarchy.

I quickly became a regular at Bost, and soon I learned that the staff are more than colleagues for one another. They share their stories, heartbreaks, and happiness–they are each other’s support systems. I was there so often during the time that I spent in Kabul, I had the privilege of getting to know the staff and learning about the obstacles they have overcome. With every story, I felt proud to be a woman and stronger in my faith in our common resilience and power. Going to Bost felt like sisterhood-in-action.

It’s hard to find optimism in Afghanistan right now. Every day, we wake up to news of death and war and destruction. Just this past month, a U.S.-led airstrike killed 18 civilians, and terrorists murdered six Red Cross staff members and dozens of ordinary Afghans in several deadly attacks. But it is at times like this that we need to hold on the tightest to our dreams of a better world. At Bost, I found a community of women, another home, and, most importantly, some hope for the future of Afghanistan.

Editor’s Note: This story was written as part of a collaboration between Free Women Writers and StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks initiative, involving a three-part online storytelling workshop. For more information about Free Women Writers, contact Noorjahan Akbar. For more information about Silence Speaks, contact Amy Hill.

Photos Courtesy of Bost Restaurant Facebook Page.

Noorjahan Akbar

Noorjahan Akbar is the founder of Free Women Writers. She loves reading and writing and like most Afghans, she is addicted to green tea.

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Daughters of Rabia is a collection of Afghan women's writings in defense of their human rights. The book was published by two Afghan activists, Noorjahan Akbar and Batul Muradi, in 2013. Following the book's success and distribution in six provinces in Afghanistan, Noorjahan Akbar created the Free Women Writers blog to continue publishing women's writings in Persian, Pashtu and Uzbeki. Since then, the blog has expanded to include hundreds of articles, poems, narratives, essays and paintings about gender equality, environmental concerns, economic inequality, democracy and other social justice issues. With a weekly readership of more than thirty thousand, the blog has reached tens of thousands of Afghans. This website is the English translation of these writings. Read the Persian book here: http://bit.ly/DaughtersofRabia