Friday, 17 April 2009

Bravery is not enough

There ought to be more that the international community can do to support Afghan women who see their human rights under threat from new repressive national legislation.
The bravery of those Shia women in Afghanistan who chose to take to the streets this week to protest was immense. For someone sitting here, it's hard to imagine being brave enough to do that.
It was an incredibly scary and difficult thing to do to take on the braying masses of men who threw stones and angry words at them as they made their public protests.
The photos of the event show an incredibly divided gender split - women marching and crowds of men baracking.
In a culture which is increasingly putting women under pressure to stay inside and not act without the permission of their male supervisor - either husband or father, those mostly young women chose to make their protest public, showing the world that is not just western outsiders who are criticial of President Karzai's decision to cozy up to the conservative Shia Afghans.
Without such protest, it is much easier for Afghan leaders to suggest that such measures are indeed the will of their people, and critisize other nations for interfering in their cultural disputes.
As the women protestors pointed out, this is not about religion interference, but about one interpretation of religion.
Historically religions have often been interpreted/translated by men from conservative sections of society to oppress women even when this was not the original intention of the text or movement.
Where religious interpretations are being used to further conservative ideologies such as women not being allowed to take a job, drive or have financial independence, then no one should feel that criticizing those mandates is actually an attack on a religion, but an argument with those who choose to use it for those ends.
Meanwhile, we should put pressure on the Afghan government to treat all its citizens equally and not create a backward-looking elitism based on gender.

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