Please do not forget us. Again. Like You Did Last Time.


In today’s Guardian, we learn that Three Cups of Tea and The Kite Runner be damned, things are NOT better for women in Afghanistan.

Afghan Women Protest New Family Law

Afghan women protest at the proposed new family law Photograph: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

 

(For more of my writing on this subject in the past, see When Will Women Matter; Faces; Will Women Pay for Peace in Afghanistan; and How Can I Bear It?.)

 

According to reporter Janine di Giovani:

Eight years later I returned, but the Afghanistan
I found was far from jubilant. Despite the money poured into
reconstruction and development, it is one of the five poorest countries
in the world. There is 40% unemployment – nearly 80% in some parts of
the country. A third of children under five are malnourished. Life
expectancy is 43 – and it is one of only three countries in the world
where women die earlier than men.

Did you read that statistic? LIFE EXPECTANCY IS 43 and women die earlier than men. 

You
would think, given those miserable statistics, that perhaps the United
States and the Afghan government would be looking at ways to improve
the lives of its people, especially its women. 

Yeah, right.
When things aren’t going right in a society, what’s the first thing
that gets blamed? Lax morality. And who is responsible for lax
morality? Yep. Us. Those daughters of Eve. 

 

I
arrived to meet women before the presidential elections next month and
to talk about a new law, which if brought in, could have drastic
repercussions for women. The Shia Family Planning law was signed last
March by President Hamid Karzai in an attempt, many believe, to appease
powerful mullahs. The Afghan constitution allows Shias to have a
separate family law from the Sunni majority based on traditional Shia
jurisprudence, and some think the law is linked to the August elections
and the Shia electorate who would have to abide by it (they could form
up to 20% of the electorate).

The proposed law led to
furious protests from women’s groups. It sanctioned marital rape and
brought back Taliban-era restrictions on women by outlining when a
woman could leave her house and the circumstances in which she has to
have sex with her husband; Shia woman would be allowed to leave home
alone "for a legitimate purpose" only which the law does not define,
and could refuse sex with their husbands only when ill or menstruating.

You
see? The best thing for a woman who is not going to live very long
anyway is to just have sex with her husband whether she wants to or
not; to stay in her house; and to keep her fucking pie-hole shut. 

Following
international outrage, Karzai backtracked and said the law would be
reviewed. This month it was amended and re-signed by the president, but
has not yet been ratified by parliament. Human rights groups say it is
unclear how much the amendments have done to improve the law. And the
law has already achieved its aim – instilling fear and insecurity among
an already traumatised female population.

Soraya
Sobhrang, a human rights activist I meet in her Kabul office, says,
"The law will affect all women if it goes through. It opens the door
for other repressive laws to be passed, for Sunni Muslims as well as
Shia." A young doctor friend, Najeeb Shawal, says he is seeing more
female patients who were depressed since news of the law emerged. "They
have the kind of hopelessness that comes with knowing your life is
incredibly repressed. And might become more so."

253400234_2d19f2861b_o

(Safia Amajan murdered in Sep. 2006 for daring to educate girls.) 

Congratulations.
The law is already working. We love it when women are depressed. That
means we don’t need to worry about them going outside and making a
ruckus. Instead, they’ll just stay inside, and, if we’re really lucky,
they’ll stick their heads in gas ovens or set their burqas on fire.
Everybody wins!

By the way. Karzai’s original excuse for signing the law? He didn’t read it before he signed it. 

There are bright spots in Afghanistan:

Bamiyan
is the home of the Shia Hazara, the third largest ethnic group in
Afghanistan. I am surprised by the "city’s" remoteness because there
has been a huge outcry here from the women over the law:
demonstrations, protests on the radio, grass roots organisations very
quickly coming together. I meet one of the protest leaders in a small
restaurant overlooking the holes in the mountain left when the Taliban
blew up the ancient Buddha statues there in 2001. Batool Mohammadi is
27, black-robed, and heavily pregnant. "The law does not fit with
humanitarian law," she says. Batool, a Hazara, comes from the
generation of Afghan women born after the Soviet invasion and raised
during the Taliban era. She has only known war, conflict and
repression. The small window of triumph after the fall of the Taliban –
who brutally repressed the Hazaras – has given her a taste of freedom
and she is not ready to give it up. "In an area as traditional as
Bamiyan, one of the major problems with this law is that it will stop
the trend towards modernisation." As Batool leaves, she says that when
her baby is born in June, she wants him or her to enter a world moving
towards equality, not repression.

The governor, Habiba
Sarabi, is the former Minister of Women and as a Shia will have to obey
the law if it is passed. She meets us in her sparse office, a grim,
Soviet-style building set on a windswept plain. There are plates of
nuts and fruits and the governor, looking exhausted, nibbles dried
apricot. At 53, Sarabi is no-nonsense. She is a chemist by trade and
speaks good English. The daughter of an illiterate mother who
encouraged her daughter to read and write, she tells me when she was
young she was mocked as she walked to school alone. Having struggled so
hard it was particularly hard to see her own daughter, now 24, denied
education under the Taliban. The family escaped to Pakistan and Sarabi
worked on human rights and women’s projects.

On the new
law, she tries to be diplomatic, but I can tell she is concerned:
"Fortunately, women raised their voice." She is confident (perhaps
overly so) that the law will not go through. But later, at her
residence, when she curls her stockinged feet under her, she admits the
wider crisis. Bamiyan is one of the few success stories in Afghanistan:
it is poppy-free, the government functions well, and as she points out,
"It is the safest place in Afghanistan. The rule of law is important
here." She has improved the education and health services (instigating
midwife programmes, for example, in a province that has one major
hospital). But can this last? If, following elections, Karzai succumbs
to the mullahs (who exercise huge political power in Bamiyan and the
rest of the country), for how long will it be safe for women? Even
Sarabi finally admitted that if the law is ratified, it would affect
her too.

 

But those women who have been unaffected by these new laws are rare. And a lot of women are frightened: who wouldn’t be?

Women
who have managed to cross gender boundaries seem in a state of shock
over the law. Jamila Barekzai is a police officer whose female
colleague was killed by the Taliban last year in Kandahar for daring to
do a mans’ job. When I go to meet her at the Central Afghan Police
Headquarters on the edge of Kabul, next to one of the biggest Shia
mosques in the city, she is wearing her olive uniform and heavy black
eyeliner. She was transferred from Kandahar last year to Kabul when she
thought she would be killed too. She takes out her mobile phone and
plays a recording of an unnamed Taliban telling her to stop working,
"or you will be taught the lesson we taught your friend". She says she
was mainly frightened for her children and touches the gun at her hip.

President
Obama has committed more troops to Afghanistan, ostensibly for finding
that guy (what was his name? the one who blew up the towers?) and
gettting the increasing threat of terrorism from the Swot Valley in
Pakistan under control. 
But
are women on President Obama’s radar? Are we going to be willing to
trade stability in the area for the lives of millions of Afghani women
who will once again be confined to their homes, illiterate,
ill-considered, depressed, and basic sperm receptacles for their
husbands? Is this the legacy that Obama wants to leave in Afghanistan? 
Or
can we start, right from the beginning, by saying to Karzai that yes,
we know you have us by the gas hose right now because you have access
to that pipeline we want, but hey, women are people, too. 
Please, President Obama. If we are to go to war in Afghanistan, make it mean something.
I do not want to have to write in five years that we have subdued the
terrorists, but once again, we have paid for it with women’s lives. 
President
Obama, First Lady Obama, Secretary of State
Clinton–anyone–everyone–who will listen: do not turn your backs on
the women of Afghanistan. They are not collateral damage. We are not
collateral damage of war. We are human beings. We have feelings. And
bodies. And we hurt. And we ache. And we grieve. And if, once again, we
are told that it is more important that we are treated like pieces of
shit so that some problem may be solved, it may be that some of us may
not be able to take that anymore. 
So please. 
I beg you.
On my knees.
For the women of Afghanistan.
Don’t. Forget. Us.

When I leave, someone
tells me the Taliban spring offensive has begun, American troops are
pouring in, and President Karzai is beginning his political campaign. I
keep thinking of Batool, the pregnant activist in Bamiyan, and her
baby, and her life in 20 years’ time. If the law does not pass and
women continue rolling on, she has a chance. If not, she might still be
wearing a burka and never learn how to drive.

Bitter? Moi?

Mais, non! I
live in the greatest country in the world. Everything we touch turns to
gold! Why, just look at all the great things we’ve accomplished in
Afghanistan!

 

—–
Governor
David A. Paterson has directed that flags on New York State government
buildings be flown at half-staff on Thursday,  July 16, 2009,  in honor
of  a Fort Drum Soldier  killed in Afghanistan on July 9, 2009.  
Spec.
Joshua R. Farris of La Grange, Texas, died in Wardak Pronvince of
wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his
vehicle.  Spec. Farris was a member to the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry
Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of 10th Mountain Division.
" I
speak for all New Yorkers when I say that we will forever honor the
service this young soldier gave to our nation, " said Governor
Paterson.  "He was not a native New Yorker, but we consider all
soldiers stationed at Fort Drum to be one of our own.  On behalf of the
people of the State, I extend our deepest sympathy to the family,
friends and fellow soldiers of Sepc. Farris."
Governor Paterson has
directed the flags on all State buildings to be lowered to half-staff
in honor and tribute to our State’s service members who are killed in
action.

And the beat goes on….

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

  • fingerlakeswanderer

    They’re so far away, and we have so many problems at home. Perhaps it’s easier to shut our eyes and pretend that the women of Afghanistan have got to figure this out for themselves. But how can they? They have a puppet government that we installed, and instead of protecting the rights of everyone, this new government is already making deals with mullahs in order to hold onto whatever power it has got.

  • invalid-0

    Excellent piece. It is incredibly important to fight for women’s rights in places like Afghanistan. Enabling women to realize their professional and personal dreams – and live free of fear – makes society better for EVERYONE!
    Hope to see more from this author in the future.