Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, April 3rd, 2020

Gender-based Discrimination Continues

Violence against women has increased in Afghanistan despite strong advocacy of women’s rights. A number of individuals still seek to impose their will on women. Although men and women are equal constitutionally, it is hard to implement the law in the patriarchal system, in which traditional mindset is deeply embedded.
Afghanistan’s regimes exercised contradictory attitudes towards women. A number of kings took conservative or even radical approaches towards women and curtailed their social and political role. With the strict rule imposed on women, Afghans supported the radical approaches and found them in reconciliation with their cultural values and conservative narratives of the society.
However, secular approaches were also adopted towards women, which extended their social and political role. For the time being, mainly during Zahir Shah’s kingdom, women enjoyed equal rights with men constitutionally and exercised their liberty. They engaged in collective life more than ever before and had strong presence in schools and universities.
When King Amanullah Khan, however, adopted more secular approach toward women, Afghan people, mainly conservative and religious figures, revolted against his kingdom. In other words, Afghan people, especially in tribal belts, could not reconcile their conservative and patriarchal mindset with Amanullah’s reform and modernization. Subsequent to the collapse of Amanullah’s regime, more conservative and radical approaches towards women were ensued. Fearing the fate of Amanullah, Afghan kings imposed strict rule on women and curtailed their freedoms and collective role.
With the civil unrest and emergence of Mujahidin, Afghan women were further marginalized and their rights and freedoms were violated flagrantly. Women were deemed inferior and their role was disregarded and underestimated. Afghanistan had changed into a complete patriarchal system, where there was no room for women at all.
The situation had been deteriorated with the establishment of the Taliban regime. The Taliban militants, who mostly emerged from tribal belts and areas dominated by the Pashtun tribal code of conduct, repressed women and defined no role for them. Afghan women enjoyed no rights or liberties during the Taliban regime and bore the brunt of tribal mindset and radical ideology.
Following the downfall of the Taliban regime, Afghans embraced democratic values and constitution, which extended the room for equal rights of men and women. Generally speaking, the people of Afghanistan suffered severely under conservative and radical figures, including Mujahidin and the Taliban, and believed that marginalization of women from social and political arenas would do more harm to the society than good. Therefore, they did not resist against democratic values and sought to reconcile their mindset with modern values.
Nonetheless, gender discrimination is still exercised in Afghanistan, mainly in tribal areas, where some individuals are not able to accept the equal rights of men and women.
It is believed that violence against women are rooted from two main issues: For the one, Afghans have exercised traditional culture – which restricted women’s freedoms and role – for hundreds of years. Therefore, it is hard for some to change their views regarding women. They still exercise traditional mindset and deem women as inferior creature.
Second, a large number of people still view women as object for satiating the carnal desire of men. Therefore, Afghan women are harassed sexually in public places, work environment, streets, etc. That is to say, since Afghan women entered social areas and social works years after repression and confinement, men – who were deprived of having female colleagues, classmates, and counterparts for many years – view them with sexual thirst and harass them sexually. Thus, sexual harassment is rife in the country.
Violence against women and violation of their rights and dignity are highly outrageous and should come to an end. To reduce violence against women, religious scholars should enlighten women’s rights and dignity on the basis of the true spirit of religion and denounce the misogynistic rehearsals and cultural restrictions exerted against them. They have to illustrate that cultural taboos must not outshine religious principles especially in terms of women’s rights and freedoms. So, a campaign against ongoing violence by religious scholars and institutions is likely to be very productive.
Moreover, Afghans should try to reconcile their mindset with modern and democratic values since conservative worldview regarding women played a destructive role in the country. In the post-Taliban Afghanistan, in which a democratic constitution is approved, the social and political role of women has been proved highly productive. Hence, Afghans should support women and their rights and freedoms and hold them with respect. Indeed, sexual discrimination and violence against women have room neither in national laws and international instruments nor in religious tenets.