When the troops withdraw from Afghanistan next year, many fear a terrible backlash. Tracy McVeigh meets seven women who rebuilt their lives after Taliban oppression – and finds them at risk once more
"This is man's bread," says Hamil Fareed, a young baker. "Women's bread," he explains, is different, the dough kneaded at home by mothers and cooked out of sight at the back in the clay ovens and returned to the family.
The segregation of Kabul's daily bread is not a cultural tradition, but started under the Taliban in the 1990s. Faced with a half-starved city of war widows barred from working, studying or leaving their homes, someone began a clandestine communal fire pit where women could bake flatbread for their children and earn a few coins by selling them on. The UN, impotent in quelling the vicious war, encouraged more such schemes and, when the Taliban soldiers who roamed the streets seemed to tolerate figures in burqas creeping out to little backstreet bakeries, heralded it as a "step forward" in women's rights.
The outside world has used Afghanistan as a pawn in its geopolitical "great games" since the 19th century and ensnared it in a labyrinth of strategic and economic interests. Since 2001 the country has received some £60bn of aid; there have been tangible improvements in education, maternal mortality, employment, and the representation of women in governance. But there are signs that those gains are too fragile to survive the international community's departure.