Monday, 13 July 2009

Here we still are

Women in Afghanistan are facing increasing violence almost eight years after the fall of the Taliban, a UN report has showed. The report, issued by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, focuses on the "growing trend", not rapid decrease, of violence and sexual threats made against women in public life. So eight years after a liberation war, here we still are.

The thing about Afghanistan was that if it ever was first about rooting out one famous man - the Notorious Mr Bin Laden, the operation soon became something else. As it had to, just as Iraq did otherwise how else could the public continue to stomach and support what was happening. And the something else it had to become was the women. From the onset of the Afghanistan campaign, the blue grilled burqa draped over a suffocating Afghani woman was just as frequent an image as that of Mr Bin Laden himself - The women's plight in Afghanistan very swiftly took centre stage in the world's media as the second in line plug for the devastating bloodshed. We heard very soon about the ‘no everything policy’, which is what I call it – No education, no healthcare with male consent, no ability to go outside without male permission, etc. These female struggles became apparent to us with the unprecedented sudden media spotlight, and the world longed for the heroic solders to go and liberate them.

But we sit here eight years later, knowing what happened next. That eight years on, British soldiers continue to die by their many trying to conquer Afghanistan from the multitude of factions and tribes which govern it and women's rights has become the least of the problems on the Western To-Do list. Although there is some sort of Afghani ‘democratic’ parliament put in place, their presence serves more for glossy photo opportunities for the media, than an actual ruling capacity over the people. It is the warlords and their multiple factions who in reality, still rule Afghanistan. So even when the Karzai Government, under Western pressure have attempted to make reforms, they have not have the courage to implement any real change at all – Having attempted to deal with violence against women within marriage, they have recently taken a small step to simply tweak the marital law so that men can still starve their wives as a punishment, instead of physically beat them.

The reality is, the situation for women in Afghanistan is not very different now than it was before the war – Rates for education for girls in Kabul has slightly increased with the ability for NGOs and other independent organisations to work there, however in the South and West of the country things are just as they were eight years ago. Professional women across the country are still kidnapped and killed as the Taliban and its factions continue to assert their authority on how they view women in society. This seems nowhere near the liberation that the West claimed to bring Afghanistan’s female race.Western liberalism did of course in some attempts enter Afghanistan. Beauty salons grew in stature in Kabul and the beauty company Revlon swooped in before the women could even fling there burqas off. This reinforced the message from the West to the Afghani women; that adopting the view that looking pretty is a measure of liberation, is the way forward for them.

But the thing is the burqas did not actually fling off, even with the presence of salons and Revlon. Forget the fact that lipsticks would be the least of their concerns, there is a deeper discussion to be had about values. Without sounding naive, of course women in Afghanistan still feared the repercussions of the Taliban warlords in rejecting their rules, anyone could say which would be the main reason for their continuing submission, but there was a more deeper issue here I think. Although the Afghani women were atrociously oppressed, liberation for them was not necessarily about slapping on some Revlon make-up. And this is something the world needs to understand - That liberation for women is not only in the form of Western liberalism where women must assert their sexual freedoms and desire to live like a man through equality, to feel liberated. In fact history in the West shows that exploiting the sexuality of women through the value of freedom, has brought a whole different set of devastating problems for society. Thus although denial of basic rights, being owned like cattle is the Afghani society’s absolute exploitation of women; can the opposite be drawn from societies which implement liberalism? Is not the standard of women being sexual comoddities as the norm as well as leaving her to run the rat race of seeking her own financial independence despite what other responsibilities she may have in life, another form of exploitation? How can such standards for women be seen as the liberation when they have their own chains of subjugation?

Eight years, ten years, twenty years. Even if Britain and America set their hearts on changing women's rights in Afghanistan with what they see as their golden freedom and liberalism, they would only replace one set of problems, with a whole host of another. So it’s time we seek a solution for the women of Afghanistan which actually gives them rights and protection without unshedding another load of social problems. And a change that would actually put the needs of the people, and the women first – not make them the convenient smokescreen to cover up real political objectives. This is the complete system of Islam, which enshrines rights for women in such a way that it fosters absolute honour and protection for them from all types of exploitation in society.

It is Islam which forms the sentiments of the people of Afghanistan, for even those who have twisted it to exploit the people. And it is Islam which forms the sentiments of the women, who seek Allah’s mercy and help for the oppression they undergo. And it is the Islamic ruling system, led by a sincere ruler, which can eradicate all the tribal practices once and for all and ensure it is only the pure and undiluted Shariah which is implemented as happened in the time of the Prophet SAW. And most importantly, for this debate, it is Islam which will actually give women their rights to full participation in public life, without compromising their role as women. Instead of punishing a race for holding X chromosomes in their DNA, Islam actually gave them a distinct value; as the Prophet SAW famously once said, ‘Paradise is at the feet of your mother’ and that ‘The world and all things in the world are precious but the most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman.’ Which other society can boast of enshrining the honour of a woman in such an intrinsic way as this?

The Afghanistan dilemma has become a plagued one in the Western media today, as all wonder how it is they can overcome this lingering mess. But one thing remains sure, that whether their military campaign ends ‘successfully’ or not, the place of women in Afghanistan will remain a cause for concern until real change can occur for them, which brings real honour. Not the most popular change, which has no proven track record in the least.

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