Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, October 23rd, 2017

In Pursuit of Reviving Identity

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In Pursuit of Reviving Identity

Social-traditional structure and tribal customs have constantly marginalized women from social and political arenas. Women’s identity was veiled in mystery and their role was reduced to breeding and mothering. Since the process of women’s rights and freedoms was influenced by several regimes and their approaches, it passed a tortuous path. Tribal traditionalism, Amani modernism and Talibanic radicalism played a key role in the process of women’s rights.
To view cultural characteristics, a traditional culture is a set of unwritten code practiced among the public and based on one’s will. Social solidarity originates from race and blood in this culture and ‘blood is’ viewed ‘thicker than water’. Traditional culture is restricted with ethnic and tribal boundaries and aligns insider against outsider. This kind of culture is authoritarian and person-oriented rather than considering one’s personality. In other words, identity is defined on the basis of blood and tribal interests and national identity is reduced to a narrow ethnic structure. In such a traditional, patriarchal and authoritarian culture, women encountered an identity crisis and their rights and freedoms were grossly violated.
For instance, Nadir Khan’s regime forced women to wear heavy veil and burqa and shut down the girls’ schools which were established during Amanullah Khan’s regime.
In spite of the strong sexual discrimination applied against women, the evolution of women’s rights in former regimes is an undeniable fact. For example, girls’ schools were established during Zahir Shah’s regime – as Shah Mahmud was the premier for seven years – national council election was held, and women’s institute was founded. Based on such steps, Shah Mahmud was titled the “father of democracy”. Following Mahmud’s resignation, Shah’s cousin Mohammad Dawood Khan was appointed as prime minister and made great evolution regarding women’s rights. In late 50s, solar year, women were allowed to involve in social activities. Subsequently, woman’ voice and then a song with woman’s voice was first heard through radio. Meanwhile, women were allowed to disclose their face through abandoning burqa. In brief, one of the Dawood’s significant acts was lifting forced hijab in 1958 which was called “Women’s Movement”.
However, some conservative and radical elements who were influenced by Deobandism and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan nurtured strict view regarding women’s status and role during Mujahedeen’s regime.
With the emergence of the Taliban and their unique attitude towards women, the process of women’s rights was pushed to a steep slope and declined tremendously. Entering Kabul, the Taliban closed beauty parlors and women’s baths and declared that tailors were not allowed to measure women’s bodies for making clothes for them. Painting nails, taking pictures, listening to music, etc. were deemed violation of the Taliban’s decree. Besides being deprived from getting education, women were not allowed to travel without chaperon. So, their identity was exposed to threat once more.
After the downfall of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate and establishment of new administration on the basis of election and public will and endorsement of democratic constitution, the discourse of women’s rights resurfaced as a hot debate. According to the current constitution – which was approved in January 2004 with the participation of people’s representatives, jihadi leaders, academic and political figures, and religious scholars – the principle of equality or non-discrimination is recognized as one of the basic principles which lets no distinction or discrimination between men and women. That is to say, men and women are entitled equally. In the post-Taliban administration, Afghan women have active role and participation in social, cultural, economic and political arenas. For example, women hold high political positions in the current government such as being minister, deputy minister, district governor, provincial governor, ambassador, head of the Independent Human Rights Commission, deputy to High Peace Council, and members of lower and upper houses.
Despite the ratification of the constitution and the establishment of a democratic system, the Afghan government has not an acceptable record on the protection of women’s rights and freedoms. Violence against women is widespread and they are forced into self-immolation and committing suicide in some cases. Forced and under-aged marriages, desert courts – carried out by radical elements and tribal council – sexual harassment, mostly with a sense of revenge, still hold sway in villages. Although women hold a certain dignified status in the constitution and principle of non-discrimination is recognized, they are hardly implemented. On the other hand, traditional customs are in conflict not only with national law but also with religious tenets, which reflect government’s low record in upholding women’s rights.

Realizing this fact, a number of Afghan women sought to revive their identity through social media. They launched a movement titled “Where is my name?” in social network. It comes as scores of Afghan women are using Facebook under false names and features. In short, they are operating under clandestine identity but seek to revive it. To sum up, this movement is ridiculous and will hardly ever bear the desired result. Afghan women need to launch systematic movement and raise their voice strongly against injustice and discrimination done against them.  

Hujjatullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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