Story

Afghanistan’s War Widows

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Bibi Hawa Allabad stands with other widows in Kabul’s Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced persons. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2015.

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Noor Jan, a widowed mother of three, lives alone in a small home where she does embroidery work to earn a modest living. Her husband died during a suicide attack in Kabul. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2015.

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Hamid, in 2014, holds a photo of his father, who was killed during his service in the Afghan army, leaving Fereshta, at rear, widowed with five children. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2014.

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Bibi Ayesha, left, begged for money after her husband was killed by the Taliban in the 1990s. She now relies on her son for support. Bibi Naiz, right, who is blind in one eye, lost seven members of her family, including her husband, daughter and two sons, during an airstrike. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2015.

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Gulshan cleans houses to support her six children. Like many widows, she is uneducated and illiterate. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2015.

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Clockwise from top left: Asefa, whose husband was killed in an ethnic conflict, now lives with her six children in a tent, where they weave carpets to make money. Khadijah lost her husband three years ago during a battle between the Hazara and the nomadic Kuchi tribes. She lives on a hill in a one-room house without furniture or running water. Sahar is supported by her husband’s family. Gulshan holds her youngest daughter. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2015.

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Fereshta, in 2014. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2014.

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Shakhan married at 15, without an education. Her husband was a commander in the Afghan National Army. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2014.

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Fereshta lives on a hill in eastern Kabul. After her husband’s death, she received a pension of $120 a month. A year later, the money stopped. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2015.

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Mahta begs for money in downtown Kabul. She is not handicapped, she says, but feels she must act as such to survive as a beggar in a city that has many like her. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2015.

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Sima sits outside a bread shop in Kabul, waiting for handouts. Her husband died as a solider with the Afghan National Army. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2015.

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Jamila holds a poster of her late husband, Mohammad Hussain, who was killed last year, days after joining the national police force in Helmand. Standing with her are children Sajad, at right, and Bahara. Image by Paula Bronstein/The Wall Street Journal. Afghanistan, 2015.

Editor's note: An excerpt of the article by Margherita Stancati for The Wall Street Journal that accompanied Paula Bronstein's photographs.

KABUL—In the spring of 2013, Fereshta’s husband enlisted in the Afghan army. Three months into his deployment, he was killed.

“My youngest daughter was 40 days old,” recalled Fereshta, a mother of five who, like many Afghans, goes by only one name.

After her husband’s death, she received a pension of 7,500 afghanis ($120) a month. But a year later that money stopped, she said—the government isn’t sure why—forcing her to ask for her brothers’ help to feed her children.

Three decades of conflict in Afghanistan have produced a vast population of war widows. Last year was the deadliest for Afghans since the U.S. invasion in 2001, with 2,690 civilian men and around 5,400 troops killed.

This year has been no less violent, with hundreds killed or injured in fighting in the northern province of Kunduz.

Many widows lack the support of relatives whose lives too have been upended by the country’s continuous violence and poverty. Few have any job prospects where women rarely work outside the home. And those who should qualify for government support often aren’t aware that they are entitled to it.

You can read the article in its entirety here.