ISLAMABAD, Nov. 27 (UPI)
Women no longer allowed to bathe in 32 public
facilities in the Afghan capital will begin suffering health consequences by January, a
United Nations report said.
Ten midwives and two women doctors told a U.N.
investigator they expect to see increased cases of gynecological infection and scabies, a
skin disease, "approximately three months'' after the ruling Taliban closed Kabul's
bath houses for women in mid-October, saying they were "un-Islamic.''
The greatest risk to women is "uterine
infection after childbirth, one of four major causes of maternal mortality,'' according to
a memo from Tanya Power Stevens of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian
Assistance to Afghanistan. The memo was made public in Islamabad on Wednesday.
Health workers told Powers that children age 7
or younger, forced to wash at home in cold water, would suffer increased cases of
respiratory infection, the biggest killer of children during the winter months.
Kabul's bath houses offered poor women and their
young children a cheap, hot bath for the equivalent of 6 U.S. cents in a city deprived of
running water and electricity for more than three years.
Their closure was the latest in a series of
restrictions imposed on women by the fundamentalist militiamen who took control of the
city in late September.
Earlier, the Taliban sent women home from work,
forced them to wear head-to-toe veils, and closed schools for girls. Those who disobey are
harassed or beaten.
Ironically, there are strong links between
bathing and the Islamic faith. "Cleansing is an essential part of the Islamic
religion, particularly for women'' after childbirth, intercourse and menstruation, the
U.N. memo said.
"Even if I were hungry, I would choose to
go to the hammam (bath house) to cleanse myself for prayer rather than buy bread,'' the
report quotes a woman as saying.
It said the greatest impact will be on poor women who live in areas already deprived of
sanitation and piped water.