VIEW : Afghan women after 2014 — Fakiha Hassan Rizvi
The unwavering faith and intense struggle of Afghan women has continued since the civil war started in Afghanistan. As the only woman to this date ever to be crowned ‘Miss Afghanistan’ (Zuhra Yousaf) puts it, “War steals the very breath of life. Afghanistan stopped breathing and the little that was achieved by Afghan women came to a standstill.” The female gender in the land operating under the yoke of Taliban rule had always been striving to deny the gender role that was assigned to them. They had coveted the identity that was invaded by the feudal lords, bigots and warlords. An average Afghan woman, even today, in any part of the world, feels like a pendulum swinging between ‘Orientalist representations’ and ‘stereotypes of Islamic tradition’ imposed on her. All she is worried about is ‘what others think of her’. The promises of peace, security and egalitarianism for them seem to fade away. Even after a decade of bombing and NATO strikes, Afghan women are still searching for their lost identity.
The question arises: why?
After the twin bombing of the World Trade Center, which the world remembers as 9/11, the weakening of the Taliban and al Qaeda was being portrayed as the liberation of Afghan women. However, nothing ‘just’ seems to prevail in their homeland for them. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one in two girls who should go to school remain at home in Afghanistan. One in five children do not survive long enough to make it to school. Women trafficking rose to unprecedented levels since 2001. Economic problems, enhanced poverty and problems such as forced marriages have resulted in the dramatic increase of ‘self-immolation’ among women. Although 25 percent of parliament comprises of women, honour killings are still executed at an expeditious rate. Despite tragedies and hopelessness, Afghan women are valiantly fighting for their rights. They clearly denied the gender roles being ascribed to them by the Taliban and now they are dissenting against the tags placed on them by the invading forces. Had the champions of ‘peace, equality and humanity’ kept their promises, the situation would have been a lot different. Now, even a baby girl born in Afghanistan would be a matter of concern for her mother who would be worried about her existence in a respectable way. In her own way and according to her culture, norms and religious beliefs, she tries to shield her from forced social control.
While directly relating the downfall of the Taliban with the emancipation and empowerment of women, the west has forgotten the state structure and laws in Afghanistan. It is evident that Afghans emphasise on state-imposed changes to women’s legal and social status. The reforms initiated from 1919-1929 were a consequence of constitutional amendments. During the reign of King Amanullah Khan, women were guaranteed equal rights under the constitution. Female students were sent to Turkey for higher education. Then in 1959, the policies of Muhammad Zahir Shah allowed women to unveil voluntarily and to find employment. By 1964, women even won their right to cast votes. All these changes were legitimised only through constitutional means.
Contrary to the above mentioned measures of the past, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the United States failed to devise any workable or long term strategy to ensure peace in the region. The devastation worsened due to drug cultivation, terrorist activities and the upward trajectory in crime rates. NATO forces made Afghanistan a battleground between themselves and the insurgents. The worst affected actors were the Afghan women. They were deprived of a conducive socio-political environment to institutionalise their legal rights such as education. This is the reason that women are still questioning their fate and future in Afghanistan, especially after the withdrawal of NATO forces from their country. Activist and author of A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, Malalai Joya has faced attempts on her life after speaking out against the oppression of women under the Taliban, but she is explicit in counting the US and NATO too as enemies of Afghan women’s (and men’s) right to live and learn in peace.
Entrenched in the mesh of uncertainty and trepidation, Afghan women are now looking forward to an alliance with the clerics. They are requesting pro-female Friday sermons. For them it is a hope to defeat violence and ameliorate the pitiful state of their rights. This campaign is likely to start in Kabul and would be implemented in all the provinces. However, there are 160,000 mosques in the country of 30 million people and this campaign will remain restricted to 3,500 government-funded mosques. With the withdrawal of the foreign invaders looming, Afghan women are now retreating to seek the support of traditional men who have always been represented as their worst enemies. Had the western analogy of ‘de-Talibanisation’ and ‘peace for women’ been correct or fruitful, the Afghan women would not have been left pleading for their fundamental rights.
The writer is a student of Communication Studies at University of the Punjab. She blogs at http://www.fakihahassanrizvi.wordpress.com and tweets at @Fakiha_Rizvi
Originally published in Pakistan Daily Times http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013%5C07%5C20%5Cstory_20-7-2013_pg3_6#.UeojaMpqcYI.twitter