A personal view of the plight of women in Afghanistan
Imagine that one morning, you wake up and find that the status, freedoms and privileges you once had are now gone.
You are not even a person per se, more a piece of property with similar rights to a dog. Welcome to the world of women in many parts of Afghanistan today.
Not unlike those in many countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, women here face unbelievable hardships and treatment that would constitute crimes in the western world.
Women here have to comply, though, because if they don’t, the result is often a severe beating or even death at the hands of the authorities or her own family. Many women choose what they believe is their only option – as suicide is something they can control.
The woman in the picture, wearing a traditional garment called a Chaderi-Buqra (usually pronounced “Burka”), sits in the middle of a road, her hand outstretched as she hopes that passers by will stop and give her some money.
This woman and many like her, fill the streets in cities throughout Afghanistan. Without a man to “protect” her (the war with the Soviets produced many widows), she has to fend for herself as best she can. Women generally are not allowed to work.
Culture dictates that her dead husband’s brother or other blood male relative take responsibility for her, which usually results in marriage. For women who have no one left to turn to, begging is their only option.
From a very early age, girls here are denied the rights, privileges and common courtesies bestowed on boys and men. Many, if not most women, have no idea when their birthday is or how old they really are. No one seems to care.
There is a strong belief that it is wrong for women to get an education. Family members often say almost proudly that their daughter is good because she is uneducated or can not read and write.
This is a Taliban rule, not really based in religion, but rather in maintaining control. Conversely, Islam promotes education for men and women alike and in fact, gave women the vote over 1,400 years ago.
There are secret meetings throughout Afghanistan’s major cities where some women read, write and study literature. Some will routinely lie to their families in their attempts to seek educational opportunities, wherever they can find them. To even possess books or talk about relationships is dangerous for a woman.
The perception is that if she talks about such things, she must be doing them. She can legally be beaten or even killed so that her family’s honor can be restored.
Given the current state of play, there is little chance that any woman will be taken seriously in a professional setting in Afghanistan. Men are not supposed to look at a woman, who is not their wife.
There are Taliban rules still enforced, especially in rural areas that state that men should ensure they speak loudly because a woman’s voice should never be heard.
Quite what will happen when the US pulls out remains to be seen, but women’s rights are unlikely to be at the top of the agenda.