|02-06-2007, 11:01 AM||#1|
Angling in the Deep
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Texas Riviera, Southern Mountains
Women Come Last in Afghanistan
Didn't Bush say we had liberated the women over there?
Women come last in Afghanistan
The war against the Taliban was supposed to have liberated Afghan women, but the reality is that little has changed.
Pages 1 2
By Ann Jones
Feb. 6, 2007 | Born in Afghanistan but raised in the United States, like many in the worldwide Afghan Diaspora, activist Manizha Naderi is devoted to helping her homeland. She has been sizing up the problem in Kabul, the capital, and last week she sent me a copy of her report. She says that women still have few legal protections against the systematic violation of their basic human rights -- including "savage" violence. Their access to education and employment remains critically limited and ever present is the belief that women are men's property.
I'd hoped for better news. Her report brought back so many things I'd seen for myself during the last five years spent, off and on, in her country.
Photo: AP/Rodrigo Abd
Burqa-clad Afghan woman in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, on Monday, April 17, 2006
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Last year in Herat, as I was walking with an Afghan colleague to a meeting on women's rights, I spotted an ice cream vendor in the hot, dusty street. I rushed ahead and returned with two cones of lemony ice. I held one out to my friend. "Forgive me," she said. "I can't." She was wearing a burqa.
It was a stupid mistake. I'd been in Afghanistan a long time, in the company every day of women encased from head to toe in pleated polyester body bags. Occasionally I put one on myself, just to get the feel of being stifled in the sweaty sack, blind behind the mesh eye mask. I'd watched women trip on their burqas and fall. I'd watched women collide with cars they couldn't see. I knew a woman badly burned when her burqa caught fire. I knew another who suffered a near-fatal skull fracture when her burqa snagged in a taxi door and slammed her to the pavement as the vehicle sped away. But I'd never before noted this fact: It is not possible for a woman wearing a burqa to eat an ice cream cone.
We gave the cones away to passing children and laughed about it, but to me it was the saddest thing.
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Ever since the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, George W. Bush has boasted of "liberating" Afghan women from the Taliban and the burqa. His wife, Laura, after a publicity junket to Afghanistan in 2005, appeared on Jay Leno's show to say that she hadn't seen a single woman wearing a burqa.
But these are the sorts of wildly optimistic self-delusions that have made Bush notorious. His wife, whose visit to Afghanistan lasted almost six hours, spent much of that time at the American air base and none of it in the Afghan streets where most women, to this day, go about in big blue bags.
It's true that after the fall of the Taliban lots of women in the capital went back to work in schools, hospitals and government ministries, while others found better-paying jobs with international humanitarian agencies. In 2005, thanks to a quota system imposed by the international community, women took 27 percent of the seats in the lower house of the new parliament, a greater percentage than women enjoy in most Western legislatures, including our own. Yet these hopeful developments are misleading.
The fact is that the "liberation" of Afghan women is mostly theoretical. The Afghan Constitution adopted in 2004 declares that "The Citizens of Afghanistan -- whether man or woman -- have equal Rights and Duties before the Law." But what law? The judicial system -- ultraconservative, inadequate, incompetent and notoriously corrupt -- usually bases decisions on idiosyncratic interpretations of Islamic Sharia, tribal customary codes, or simple bribery. And legal "scholars" instruct women that having "equal Rights and Duties" is not the same as being equal to men.
Post-Taliban Afghanistan, under President Hamid Karzai, also ratified key international agreements on human rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Treaty of Civil and Political Rights, and CEDAW: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Like the Constitution, these essential documents provide a foundation for realizing the human rights of women.
But building on that paper foundation -- amid poverty, illiteracy, misogyny and ongoing warfare -- is something else again.
That's why, for the great majority of Afghan women, life has scarcely changed at all. That's why even an educated and informed leader like my colleague, on her way to a U.N. agency to work on women's rights, is still unable to eat an ice cream cone.
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For most Afghan women the burqa is the least of their problems.
Afghanistan is just about the poorest country in the world. Only Burkina Faso and Niger sometimes get worse ratings. After nearly three decades of warfare and another of drought, millions of Afghans are without safe water or sanitation or electricity, even in the capital city. Millions are without adequate food and nutrition. Millions have access only to the most rudimentary healthcare, or none at all.
Diseases such as TB and polio, long eradicated in most of the world, flourish here. They hit women and children hard. One in four children dies before the age of 5, mostly from preventable illnesses such as cholera and diarrhea. Half of all women of childbearing age who die do so in childbirth, giving Afghanistan one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Average life expectancy hovers around 42 years.
Notice that we're still talking women's rights here: the fundamental economic and social rights that belong to all human beings.
There are other grim statistics. About 85 percent of Afghan women are illiterate. About 95 percent are routinely subjected to violence in the home. And the home is where most Afghan women in rural areas, and many in cities, are still customarily confined. Public space and public life belong almost exclusively to men. President Karzai heads the country while his wife, a qualified gynecologist with needed skills, stays at home.
These facts are well known. During more than five years of Western occupation, they haven't changed.
Next page: I blame George W. Bush, the "liberator" who looked the other way
Last edited by Bronco_Beerslug; 02-06-2007 at 11:05 AM..