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She is 28 but wears the lined, sad face of an old woman. Wet eyes glimmering through her burqa, she rocks gently as she talks of her coming baby as a bleak and loathsome prospect. I have a family and I want to go back to them. But if my parents see I have a new baby, they may kill me. Mina's nine-year-old son Jonahmat rests his head on her knees and then runs into the prison yard to play with other children living inside.
For now, they are safe with 11 other mothers and stray siblings who have made it to safety behind metal bars and a barbed-wire fence. When the Taliban fell from power in the capital, Kabul, the Western media celebrated the liberation of Afghan women; unveiled faces were photographed smiling proudly in a brilliant blue sea of burqas.
The message spread slowly, however. The few women who dared to show their faces were in relatively cosmopolitan Kabul; others waited for greater reassurance. Girls went back to school, but around the provinces, especially in the conservative Pashtun south, a woman on the street remained a rare sight.
The few who venture out still wear burqas or black head-to-toe garb. The sizeable Kandahar University still has only six women. Mina's jail houses 12 women.
Most are there for running away from their husbands, or for living as prostitutes because they somehow wound up without a man. A delegation of women from the Kandahar-based Afghans for Civil Society travelled to Kabul last month to discuss the new constitution with President Hamed Karzai. Delegates from the regions are to meet in December to decide whether the country's new law will be secular or follow the Islamic sharia doctrines. Rights for women, strictly limited since , remain a contentious issue.