Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Saving women’s rights in a post-war Afghanistan

By Reuters Staff
August 23, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

                                                        By Andrew Hammond

There have been worrying signs in Kabul over the past week  that political and social gains made by women since the Taliban  were removed from power in 2001 are at best tenuous.

 ”Normalising” the country’s profile after the extremes of  five years of Taliban rule has been one main justifications for  continuing the Western military mission in Afghanistan, and of  Hamid Karzai’s government.

Karzai’s interim cabinet after 2001 included a female  vice-president and there were three female ministers after his
election in 2004.  Next month’s parliamentary polls maintain a  quota to ensure at least 25 percent of Walesi Jirga seats are  filled by women.

The state has also done away with the austere version of  Islamic law applied by the Taliban and its fixed sharia
punishments for crimes such as adultery. Women are not barred  from education or the workplace or no longer need cover up  completely in public.

Social freedoms, specifically those of women, have played a  central role in Western arguments justifying a military operation  dubbed by insurgents as an occupation by Crusaders

But as Karzai, a shrewd political operator, looks at ways to  bring the Taliban into the system, support for such progressive  liberal policies appears to be in danger of collapsing.

On the one hand, July’s “Peace Jirga” talked of social rights  for women but only a few weeks later a gathering of
Islamic religious scholars — Sunnis and Shi’ites — called for a  return to the sharia “hodud” punishments of the Taliban era.

The ulema were clear that strict Islamic law would speed up  the process of making peace with Islamist insurgents, as well as  help bring an end to the state of disorder in the country. That  desire for order was one reason why many Afghans welcomed the  Taliban in the mid-1190s in a country riven by warlords and  factionalism.

 Reports suggest that the Taliban have made headway in  returning to this version of sharia, and with the apparent
approval of at least some Afghans. The governor of the northern province of Kunduz, Mohammad  Omar, said on Aug. 16 that a man and his lover who tried to elope  had been stoned to death after their families asked the Taliban to apprehend them.

 The week before, a police official said the group had also  flogged and executed a woman accused of adultery in Badghis  province in the northwest. Karzai condemned the Badghis execution but his condemnation was over the “extrajudicial” nature of the execution, not the  style in which it was done.

The United States’ ambassador-at-large for global women’s  issues, Melanne Verveer, was in Kabul last week promoting a  business venture between a U.S. fashion retailer and a U.S. aid  organisation. She praised the entrepreneurial spirit and talent of Afghan  women but, asked about the situation for women in light of the  effort to create a political resolution, she seemed alarmed.  ”The women all tell me, as they tell everyone, they want an  end to the conflict, they want peace in this country. But they  don’t want peace at any price and they want to be assured as the  process goes forward that they are fully engaged in that process  and fully participating,” she said. “If women are silenced and  marginalised the prospects for peace will be subverted.”

Verveer said she had met Karzai and discussed the issue but  gave an inconclusive answer when asked whether she had received  an assurance that advances made by women would not be sacrificed  in the name of a poltical resolution with the Taliban.

“We talked about the importance of the process,” she said. “I  feel that he listened, and I hope with so many, particularly the  women of this country, that it will be a transparent process in  which they will not be viewed as the bargaining chip.”

Another member of the delegation was more direct. She said  government officials had told them bluntly peace in Afghanistan  would require compromises — including women’s rights.

The issue is now where, rather than whether, women will take  the hit: will education and employment still remain accessible,  but only via segregation and a strict dress code?

Comments

What sort of message is being sent to Women of the World if this travesty of justice in Afghanistan continues? Your article implies adulterous women are rampant in Afghanistan, sitting in corners waiting to lure unsuspecting males into a cess pool of iniquity. What is closer to the truth is that under the Taliban regime crimes are committed against women who are subjected to cruel punishment even in instances where they are not at fault. Under Taliban and extreme Wahhabi constructs honor killings will again be fixed inside the social norm of Afghan society, regardless of the role of the woman. Women and children will once again be raped and tortured when it is deemed their fault for encouraging the worst behavior in seemingly weak men. Under their control women will again lose their human rights and dignity if the Taliban reemerge into a position of dominance and power. We cannot allow this to happen nor can we support Presidential Karsai’s puppet government to enter into any dialog with The Taliban. Our choice is and must remain to support a government whose foremost goals are education, encouragement, self sufficiency, human rights awareness in a country where all stand an equal chance to flourish and do well.

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