There is a direct association between different countries’ levels of development and the importance they attach to women’s rights. It is impossible to speak of civilisation in a society in which women are not valued, and the collapse of such a country is inevitable. With its recent past and present day position, Afghanistan is a clear example of this generalisation. The country is literally now equated with poverty, fanaticism, backwardness and repression of women.
The 1990s were the darkest period in Afghanistan’s history in terms of women’s rights. The Taliban’s seizure of power in 1996 ushered in a time of unbelievable oppression of women. Almost everything was prohibited for women: being well-groomed, laughing, having fun, going to school, working, being examined by a male doctor, expressing their opinions, talking to men, etc. It was forbidden for a woman to leave home without the permission of her husband or to appear in the street without her husband or a male relative alongside her. Women who broke the prohibitions were ruthlessly punished. The whole world witnessed the cost to women of this radical Taliban ideology. Reports are still fresh in our memory, like the one concerning 12-year-old Bibi Aisha, who was forced into marriage with a Taliban fighter, was beaten on the first day of that marriage and whose husband cut off her ears and nose when she wanted to divorce him.
One of the grounds for the NATO invasion in 2001 was to “liberate women”. Yet that great aim was ultimately shelved. A brief look at contemporary reports by respected international bodies will reveal how hard it is to be a woman in Afghanistan: nine out of every 10 women are exposed to physical or sexual abuse. Eighty-five percent of women are illiterate. The average number of children given birth to by a woman is six. As much as 50 percent of Afghan girls are married off by the time they are 12-years-old. Sometimes families marry off their daughters to pay off their debts. The mean life expectancy for women is 51 years. The country has the highest numbers in the world for deaths during pregnancy and birth.
There has been a slight improvement in these appalling figures in recent years but there has been no change in the living conditions of Afghan women. There are two main reasons for this. First and foremost, the Taliban have recovered their strength in rural areas in particular and are frequently challenging the government through terror attacks. Violence towards and repression of women continues in the areas they dominate. They burn down schools to prevent girls from being educated, they kill women’s rights advocates and intimidate women. Another reason is the false and distorted concept of women’s rights institutionalised in a large part of Afghan society. To put it another way, false religious, traditional and cultural values that have no place in Islam and the Quran rule the day; there are still a great many people inside the Afghan government, parliament and leaders of opinion who are against basic rights and freedoms for women. Some of these are openly opposed while others adopt an insincere attitude because they are wary of the west. For these reasons, innocent Muslim women in Afghanistan live deprived of social, economic and cultural rights. They are repressed and silenced by pressure from their families and tribes. When they seek to complain they frequently end up in legal trouble, despite being in the right, in Afghan institutions of state, well-known for their corruption.
It was not always like this. There was a time when Afghan women enjoyed great freedoms and lived an almost European style life. The cityscape would easily remind one of a European city and Kabul was called the Paris of Central Asia. Many Europeans and US citizens lived in the country during those years with great ease. Now, it is up to the new government to give back to the women of the country at least a semblance of normalcy, a semblance of freedom.
Enormous problems face the new Afghan head of state, Ashraf Ghani, and the newly founded government. The most urgent of these is the elimination of the different kinds of harassment, violence, threats and difficulties confronting women. Although this may seem like a remote possibility in the near future, there is an issue of vital importance in any potential national reconciliation with the Taliban: it is wholly unacceptable for the government to make any concessions whatsoever on the subject of women’s rights and freedoms for the sake of an agreement with the Taliban.
President Ghani explicitly states that women’s rights are a priority issue. Only time will tell whether this is merely political rhetoric or not. There are also hopes among the public that his wife, Rula Ghani, who is of Lebanese origin, will become actively involved. However, the efforts of the president, his wife and the government alone will not be enough.
The reason for the repression suffered by Afghan women is false religious information dating back centuries and nonsense fabricated under the name of Islam. These are also the source of Muslim Afghan society’s false cultural and traditional values concerning women. The problem cannot therefore be resolved through condemnation, imposed policies or non-functional ‘Potemkin village’ changes.
In fact, there is no system involving the repression of women in the spirit of Islam. According to Quranic moral values, women are flowers, the adornments of the world, beautiful beings, great blessings and possessed of special and elevated value. That being the case, the false, fanatical ideas in people’s minds need to change if the problem is to be solved. Afghan communities need to be told of the value God attaches to women in the Quran. With an incessant, comprehensive, serious and sincere effort, an educational campaign needs to be initiated at once. This is the only way to save Afghanistan from the despairing situation in which it finds itself now.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Daily Times & Daily Mail: