In Afghanistan, where they are far from respected and protected from various sorts of harm and abuse, women hold a very precarious place. In Kabul, women and girls walk about freely, commute to work in minibuses and commuter cars, and most dress in a manteau, loose pants, and scarf. Some women still wear the blue chadari (burqa); some who have returned in recent years from Iran wear the Iranian style black chadar, or those from Pakistan, wear the all-enveloping black burka worn by Pakistani, Arab, and Indian women. I see this very little however in Kabul.
While women work in a variety of professions, shopkeepers are exclusively men, or at least from what I have seen, and women who work do so in various levels of government and civil society organization or as housekeeping in these offices. Suffice it to say, the situation of middle class or educated women is wholly different from women of the rural areas or the poor. As is the case in many other countries, women in Afghanistan who are activists, who work within government or civil society, hail from the middle class.
The women’s movement in the United States was the product of activism by middle class women and the few men who chose to support them. At its first wave, it was wholly focused on suffrage (a very middle class concern in my mind), and later on equality in the workplace and in the civil/social space. Through it, all minorities and poor women were left on the margins of the women’s movement. It seems to me that similarly, in Afghanistan, the poor woman, the uneducated woman, and rural woman rarely have the chance to voice out their concerns on what are socially, politically, and economically lacking in their lives and their ideas on improvement. They certainly have voice, but we don’t hear it loud enough, and they themselves have no avenues or platforms to raise this voice.
The past decade, many in the international community have focused on “lifting the veil”, as if this is what will help Afghanistan, it’s women and its men and children. In reality, the solution to the problems here is not the veil, but the lack of development—in almost every sector of life. Two weeks ago, I attended a meeting with Ashraf Ghani along with other Afghan women activists. These women’s concerns on inclusion in the political and policy making process were met with his usual suggestions of improving the situation of the rural and poor class through education and broader inclusion in economic power.
In truth, development and so called post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan is a joke. Not only are the roots of conflict often ignored in policy creation, but the most significant reasons as to why young men join the insurgency in Afghanistan and why women are subjected to horrible living conditions and abuse are sidelined to be addressed at a later date. Women activists here are told by some in the international community to work for short term goals.
Again, the reality is nothing in conflict can be resolved if we simply look for quick fixes. Yes, change comes incrementally, but without a clear vision of the end goal, women activists will merely be echoes in the so-called reconstruction game being played in Afghanistan. Without concrete plans, once the international community packs up to leave Afghanistan, sooner or later, or once compromises are made in return for peace, what women have built through their own activism, and through Afghan and international support, will unravel.
Posted By Zarin Hamid
Posted Jul 22nd, 2010