Ope-Ed: Feminism in Afghanistan – working towards social inclusion

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SHAFAQNA – Feminism is a word taken for granted. It is used by people who do not even know its true meaning. One of my first ideas of the word came from my high school English teacher who said, “the difference between a feminist and a normal woman is if you open a door for a normal lady, she will thank you, whereas if you open a door for a feminist, she will ask you, Do you think I am not capable of opening the door for myself?”

In today’s world of misconceptions, it is very difficult to separate Feminism from Man-hating. While one woman formed a misconception for me, another deconstructed it. Like most people, I also watched Emma Watson’s speech for the UN’s HeForShe feminist movement. While some condemn the UN’s use of an actress to lead such a movement, I think it is an amazing idea. The amount of men that have watched this speech and listened and agreed to it could never have been achieved if it were not for the Hermione of Harry Potter. In her speech, Watson explained that Feminism is not just an issue for women, it is also the case for men. Men are too discriminated against. They are expected to be strong emotionless human beings who are not allowed to express emotions. She goes on to mention that feminism has nothing to do with hating men. Feminism strives for equality, not superiority. Feminism is not just an advocacy of women’s rights, it is a belief. It is not a group of loud women nagging about their problems but it is men and women striving towards equality for both genders. Feminism can be expressed in so many creative ways like arts, poetry, music, narratives and even cinematography.

The Art Dubai 2015 exhibition in March included many artists with beautiful works for Women’s empowerment. Sama Alshaibi was one of the most prominent. Born in Iraq to Iraqi-Palestinian parents, Alshaibi grew up in the United States and works as a teaching assistant in Photography at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. She has had numerous exhibitions all around the world, serving feminist purposes.

Feminism can be portrayed in music as well. Take Madiha Bhatti, for instance. She decided to be a female rapper who sings about feminism. In the subject of narratives, many authors such as Shereen El Feki and Maya Gebeily, have tried to break the norms of the Middle East by openly writing erotica. Other feminists use documentaries and movies to get their point across. Tahani Rashed, for example, made a documentary about Four Women of Egypt, and Lebanese Nadine Labaki produced empowering movies like Caramel and Where Do We Go Now?

Feminism is a subject that is quite sensitive to me. I do not usually speak of it because most people do not find the subject as appealing as sports or politics, for instance. I have spent five years of my life in a country where women are so oppressed that they do not see a problem in their condition. Unfortunately, they do not know any different situation. Men teach women what they want them to believe and those women teach their sons and daughters the same. The chain continues on through generations, until the acceptance of oppression becomes a norm.

A few weeks ago, when I was in Afghanistan, my sisters and I were watching an Islamic show that my mother watches frequently. A Muslim scholar was answering people’s questions when he was asked why, according to Islam, women have less rights than men. Instead of pointing out the question’s invalidity, he claimed that a woman’s brain is weaker and less capable than a man’s, thus there are certain rights and roles that are designated to men only. Sadly, my sisters and I were the only ones who found this statement so odd. However, most women believe these scholars blindly. They say, if a woman was equal to a man, why has God given her only half of inheritance compared to a man? They only understand after they are reminded that a woman gets half of her father’s inheritance and half of her husband’s. Thus, if she was given the same amount of property as a man, her cumulative possession would be twice the amount of a man’s, making her superior to him, but God does not want either gender to be superior. He wants equality. Now, that is not to say that every scholar on the television is misleading. There are many who quote the Qur’an and provide truthful and humble guiding to those seeking for answers.

It makes me extremely sad how eloquently Afghan men convince their women that oppression and inequality are a norm, that domestic violence is their right, that their mothers and sisters and wives belong at home, protected and hidden from the lustful eyes of other men like themselves. Why should the woman have to suffer and be caged? Why should those men not be held accountable for their lustful desires instead? Is it not a message of Islam to men and women to lower their gaze around the opposite gender? The decades of Taliban’s rule and deprivation of women from education has helped Afghan men create their own versions of Islam. Don’t get me wrong, I am a very religious person myself, but I look at my religion in a logical and realistic way. There is nothing wrong with questioning your own faith. It is the best way to learn and be reassured about it. I may not be a scholar of Islam but I will not believe your claims until you prove them to me. If only the women in Afghanistan could do the same, our country would be so much stronger.

We often blame our country’s lack of education, its oppression and poor conditions on the almost three decade long rule of the Taliban. Sadly, we fail to realize that the Taliban were overthrown fifteen years ago. In these fifteen years, our mindsets have changed but little. The Taliban have left their legacy in the minds of most Afghan men. As Afghans, we see change as a threat to our closed society. We see change as “westernization” and “non-Islamization.” On March 19th, a 27 year old woman named Farkhunda was lynched publicly next to the Shah-E-Do Shamshira mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan. The angry mob was told by a Mullah (clerk) that this woman had burned a copy of the Holy Qur’an. Within moments, thousands gathered and beat her with bricks and kicked her unconscious, they ran over her body with a car and finally burned her corpse and threw her in the Kabul River. Later that day, her father issued a statement that Farkhunda had been mentally sick for sixteen years. After a few days her family admitted that she was not sick, and that the statement was made to protect the rest of her family from the angry mob.

The truth is, Farkhunda was a student of Islamic studies. She could recite the Qur’an by heart and she was somewhat of an activist. She was speaking out against a Mullah of the Shah-E-Do Shamshira mosque “who was allegedly duping locals by giving out false ‘tawiz’ (amulets), papers containing Qur’anic verses that Afghans wear as a good luck charm and to ward off evil.” The mullah, in quest of saving his job and credibility, wrongly accused her of burning the Qur’an. Within moments an angry crowd began attacking her without giving her a chance to explain herself. Witnesses remember her screaming, “ I am a Muslim, and Muslims do not burn the Qur’an.” While most of the men were busy kicking her and throwing bricks at her, many slipped their phones out and started recording the incident. Several police officers were present but did not try to stop the mob. The footage circulated on social media for weeks. The men who took part in such a heinous act had the audacity to go home and write a proud status about the incident on Facebook. On March 22, innocent Farkhunda was buried by an all women group of activists who refused to allow any man to touch Farkhunda’s coffin. Her funeral was attended by thousands, grieving and chanting for justice. The following Sunday, the interior ministry announced the suspension of thirteen police officers, including the chief police responsible for the area. Twenty-one people were identified through the footage and arrested, including nine police officers. Most of them denied the claims. General Zahir Zahir, head of criminal investigation at the interior ministry said, “Even If I get killed, I won’t let any of her perpetrators get away with it.”

As this incident makes us sick to our stomachs, it also reminds us how there is absolutely no place for a rebellious and strong headed woman in Afghanistan. This will be the fate of every feminist, every activist and every religious scholar who makes enough noise to challenge the ‘social norm.’ To look on the bright side, there are many female activists and feminists like those who buried Farkhunda. There has been a significant increase in the number of girls receiving primary education since 2001. But how many of those girls go on to finish high school? How many of them go to college? How many of them are allowed to get a job and pursue a career? Unfortunately, not many. Recently a small group of men decided to stand up for women’s rights by walking through Kabul city in turquoise Burkas, holding signs that say, “Don’t cover your women, cover your eyes.” However, we still have a long way to go. This is something that happens to women all around the world, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Hindu. Religion is always used to justify unjust actions of men and women against others. Who is to say that the men who openly murdered Farkhunda, in the name of Islam, were good Muslims themselves? Let us keep in mind that these were a group of young, typical Afghan men who may or may not pray five times a day, who may or may not drink alcohol secretly from their families, and who most probably have not even read the Qur’an, but when it comes to using violence against a woman, they cannot pass on the opportunity to “defend their religion.” Even if she had, in fact, burned the Quran or disrespected it, nobody gives them the right to punish her. Even according to Islam itself, such matters must be left to the court to decide, because the court will consider every aspect of the case. I hope that one day, Afghan women will acquire the chance to live the life they deserve, the life they are entitled to, and the life promised to them by Islam. I hope that they will be able to stand up for themselves when they are denied these basic rights. I hope that nobody sees a fate like Farkhunda’s and we all learn a lesson from this situation. I hope that Afghan men are also educated so they can make decisions wisely. I hope that one day, such a society becomes the ‘norm.’

By Laima Daudzai  – Laima was born in Pakistan. Her family was one of the millions who fled Afghanistan during war. Due to her father’s job, growing up, her family moved to several countries including Switzerland, Canada and Iran before returning to her homeland for good. She has lived in Afghanistan for five years. Laima is twenty one years old, majoring in International Relations, at the American University in Dubai.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect that of Shafaqna.

 

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