An Uphill Bat­tle

Re­main­ing hopeful in a war-torn coun­try like Afghanistan is dif­fi­cult but not im­pos­si­ble.

Southasia - - Cover story -

TBy Mariam Jalalzada he fight for the lib­er­a­tion of Afghan women has been an uphill bat­tle for cen­turies. De­spite tremen­dous achieve­ments in the last ten years, the ex­treme vi­o­la­tion of women’s rights con­tin­ues, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and self-em­u­la­tions are on the rise and the op­po­si­tion forces against women’s progress re­main in­flu­en­tial. Although these and other fac­tors, such as in­se­cu­rity, the Tal­iban resur­gence and the United States’ decision to with­draw its mil­i­tary forces in 2014, make the fu­ture of women’s strug­gle bleak, there are also rea­sons to re­main hopeful, though rare.

Af­ter cen­turies of strug­gle for women’s rights, for ev­ery step for­ward there are one hun­dred steps back. Afghanistan con­tin­ues to fea­ture promi­nently on in­ter­na­tional gen­der in­equal­ity in­dexes (rank­ing 139 out of 145 in the UNDP’S Gen­der In­equal­ity In­dex) and has one of the worst ra­tios of women to men in the sec­ondary level of ed­u­ca­tion. Women con­sti­tute only 8 per­cent of the la­bor force (even though their con­tri­bu­tion to the ru­ral econ­omy is enor­mous) and re­main sub­or­di­nate to men in the house­hold and the work­place. Their free­dom in ev­ery sense, from choos­ing their hus­bands to their move­ment out­side the privacy of their house­hold, is se­verely cur­tailed. Whether dur­ing the mod­ern­iza­tion ef­forts in the nine­teenth and twen­ti­eth cen­tury or the lib­er­al­iza­tion of the last decade, vi­o­lent op­po­si­tion con­tin­ues to ham­per women’s strug­gle for their rights.

To­day how­ever, a pos­i­tive en­ergy drives young Afghan women to stand taller, speak louder, and fight harder. This men­tal­ity, in many ways, was pro­voked by the harsh re­al­i­ties of the Tal­iban era. Many Afghan women fear that if the peace process is not han­dled with care, they will find them­selves once again at the mercy of a group that is ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive, un­e­d­u­cated, and ex­tremely re­stric­tive to­wards women.

Prior to the Tal­iban’s tak­ing over of the coun­try and the pro­tracted civil war, women were ac­tively present in the po­lit­i­cal sphere as agents of egal­i­tar­ian ide­olo­gies pro­moted by the com­mu­nist regime and later served as the strong­est crit­ics of Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion of Afghanistan. Although their pres­ence in po­lit­i­cal spheres di­min­ished dur­ing the civil war, the Tal­iban’s com­plete ban on fe­male ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment shocked not only the peo­ple of Afghanistan but also the rest of the world.

Women were for­bid­den to leave their houses with­out a male es­cort, they were not al­lowed to seek med­i­cal care from a male doc­tor and were forced to cover them­selves from head to toe. Flog­ging, ston­ing and public ex­e­cu­tions be­came com­mon­place meth­ods the Tal­iban used for pun­ish­ing those who did not abide by their rules. The im­age of a burqa-clad woman be­ing shot in the head by the Tal­iban in Kabul’s Ghazi Sta­dium re­mains a shock­ing re­minder of the Tal­iban’s atroc­i­ties.

Although many women were vic­tim­ized many oth­ers re­sisted. Some women in­sisted on run­ning home­based schools around the coun­try.

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