So here I am in a city where you can buy counterfeit Coca-a-Cola and Kit-Kat and stunning traditional handmade pottery, weavings, and glass.
Kabul is both beautiful and destitute. Both hopeful and depressing.
In one week, I had affirmed and shattered the belief I really understand what I am here to work for – women’s rights.
During N’s son’s going away party last Thursday, the neighbor came by to speak to N. Our neighbor’s son married a young woman within the last year. Unfortunately, the bride’s family disapproved of the match. It is still unclear how they were legally married, but they are legally registered as husband and wife.
Due to their disapproval with the marriage, they had our neighbor’s son put in jail. Although they are well connected, they could not find a way to justify the city keeping him in jail. They decided to pursue a different kind of recourse. Phonetically pronounced as “bad”, the chosen recourse is extra legal but widely practiced. Essentially, “bad” translates into “in kind”. This practice is used to settle debts of all kinds, including gambling debts. The bride’s family wants to steal one of our neighbor’s nine daughters to settle the score. If they succeeded, the girl would be forced to marry or treated as a slave.
Our neighbors knew that the bride’s family would have done just this. Last Thursday, our neighbor, her husband, 9 daughters, 1 son and new daughter-in-law were preparing to leave everything their home for good in the middle of the night to escape to Peshawar, Pakistan, just across the border, about 6 hours away from Kabul. None of them have passports, but cars can easily drive back and forth across this unmonitored border. Once in Pakistan, this family will have to register as refugees for the fourth time in 15 years.
This event both affirmed and shattered the belief that I really understand what I am here to work for – women’s rights. I have worked on women’s issues in the broader context of democractization for the last 6 years. In the abstract, I “know” why I wanted to come to Afghanistan to work for women’s rights. I “know” what obstacles the women’s rights movement in Afghanistan faced – lack of political participation; child marriage; forced marriage; lack of opportunities for education; poor maternal health care; women’s activists and public figures are regularly threatened, beaten and murdered; endemic domestic violence; professional intimidation; few economic and social rights and the list goes on. And then it is happening right next door.
There were about 6 of us, most of us working on gender issues, one with UNDP, one with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, others with NGOs, and yet we were helpless. We are going to try to put our neighbors in touch with some people to help them once they are settled in Peshawar. Maybe write an open letter to circulate. But this happens every day. With this event, I realized that it was not Afghanistan that I am so eager to work in, but Afghanistan under these conditions.
Despite the women’s movement in Afghanistan having many successes in the recent years- the Taliban was ousted from power, the Bonn Agreement was signed, a new Constitution has enshrined the rights of women, a democratically elected government is in power, women are serving in the Parliament, millions of girls are going to school – it is not linear, incremental progress. The social, economic and political positions of women in Afghanistan are still some of the worst in the world.
Posted By Audrey Roberts
Posted Jun 9th, 2007