here is much talk about the trampling of women’s rights in Afghanistan in the media. The narrative is how under the Taliban rule, girls are not allowed to go to school, working women are told to stay home, demonstrations by women are put down with iron hands, women are not represented in the Afghan government, etc.
These views on the repression of Afghan women under Taliban rule are occupying the dominant space of the media. World is insisting that the Taliban government should shun their conservatism and give women the freedom to move about freely, go to school, go to work and induct them into the government. This view is backed up by the condition that if the Taliban do not become soft on their women, the western aid promised to them will be stopped, and also they may not be recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
These are valid points to impress the progressive societies. However what is being preached is only one side of the story about the Afghan women and there is another side of the story as well. This remains unheard and needs to be told for the people to cast their judgment on this issue. The majority of the Afghans who live in the rural areas remain rooted in their traditional values. It’s since time immemorial their lives have never changed. They were subjected to daily bombings, killings, and arbitrary violence. In such a repressive atmosphere, the lives of Afghan women deteriorated further than improved on freedom and liberty index.
The fact is 80% of Afghan girls do not have any school to go, the health care centers for women and children remain abysmally low, and the condition of women of Afghanistan rather makes it worse. The fact is the rural areas where women largely live never benefited from the western donors and aid agencies and their condition never improved. The corruption in the middle siphoned off much of the money supposed to go to them. What little went to the rural areas did not make any significant impact on the lives of the women of Afghanistan. Even the basic amenities such as health, education, and water supplies were not improved. The sorry state of affairs in Afghanistan is to be solely blamed on the international community that is largely responsible for the all-around devastation of that country. The ‘Afghan Jihad’ has brought untold misery and mayhem to the people of Afghanistan. Nearly four decades of war have left the country totally battered and bruised.
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The Afghan women had never experienced the individual freedoms enjoyed by the women of the west. Such freedom is alien to them. The societies of the occident have undergone tremendous changes following the renaissance and reformation, the birth of Protestantism, agriculture and industrial revolutions, capital formation, etc. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution had tremendous impacts on the lives of people in the west and had their own impact on the women living in these countries.
In comparison, the societies of the orient have not experienced any such shock therapies. They witnessed very slow-paced changes that too after reaching a higher level of economic development. Educational development was the key to women’s empowerment in all Asian societies.
In this social context, Afghan women are at the bottom of the ladder because their country has neither been economically sound nor they made any progress in educating its people. The women in Afghanistan are still struggling to gain respect in their homes. They still live in a male-dominated family where their repression is a common theme. They yet have to become partners in the decision-making process of the family. Their fight is to gain ascendancy in the family and then in the society and after that to become visible on the streets. All these are tall order and a work in progress.
Empowerment of women is a work that should be started in Afghanistan. It may take a while to reach the benchmark. Till then we have to support the reconstruction efforts of Afghanistan and at the same time give a gentle push to the task of women empowerment there.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com