Three years ago when I came to Afghanistan from India where I used study during summer holiday, the provincial election was about to be held. In order to know how the democracy works out in villages, I was taking part almost in meetings and discussions arranged by local elders and religious scholars. It is clear that villages have their own characteristics and own dos and don'ts. Those will win the election having thorough knowledge about the village social fabrics. Qualification and experience may play least role in victory and or failure of the candidates.
Religious scholars and tribal elders as usual were on top and controlling the meetings. Those who had their support were seating silent and smiling in the heart, because they clandestinely received insurance that nothing would go wrong.
One day after a meeting, some elders and I were seating with a candidate discussing about his campaigns and supporters. Discussion once diverted to the issue of traditional players and recently university-graduated students. An elder bragged saying that he once argued with two university-graduated students. He said: "They told me with intensive tone that tribal elders are outdated and it is time for democracy and democrats. i called my supporters and lashed both to an extent that their backs became bloody".
Sincerely speaking, I cannot approve his claims, but no doubt traditionalists still have enough power to challenge the so-called educated and open-minded layer of the society.
Religious scholars are the strongest section of the society. They play critical role in the society and enjoy deep influence among common people. Their role has been never underestimated. President Karzai has always emphasized on their role in shaping the society and strengthening economic and political stability.
Recently, Afghan Ulama council in a meeting with president Karzia submitted a declaration which largely deals with the issue of woman and sex segregation. The declaration says girls and women should be separated from men in educational institutions and working places, and they should be banned travel without legal partners---husband or close relatives like brother and father.
Afghan society as general riddled with miseries and challenge. Citizens have suffered largely during past several decades due to chronic insecurity and instability. But women suffered double of male partners. Along with deep pain of losing their family members, husband and relatives, they had to have deal with discriminative values created during decades. They have been facing problem in getting education, working and even for granted rights like simply going out to see family and friends.
Their problem for sure will last longer as the society has along way to accept them and value presence in social, political, cultural, and economic and etc spheres. "Sex hegemony' is obvious in every sphere as well as in all ranks of life.
Years of civil war and prevalence of dogmatic Islamic mentality after years of Jihad against USSR dealt huge blows to over all standings of women in the society. Their role step by step declined and finally they fell down to the state of second rate citizens. Prior to the invasion of USSR, Afghan urban women used to enjoy quite convenient social, cultural and political standings in comparison to neighboring countries.
Unfortunately, resisting Soviet Union armies were not possible without mass religious training camps where illiterate people were taught the most radical concepts of Islam. So, the consequence of such a project without provision of a democratic alternative was clear even in those days. The same people who knew nothing of human rights and human dignity came to power. The first and foremost victims were Afghan women. Even their most basic and essential rights were withheld.
Such climate ruled for absolute three decades, which is enough time to change the entire social relations and even the ethics of the community.
Presently, Afghan women are wrangling with challenges created during those tragic periods. Now looking to the state of Afghan women in constitution and their presence in political procedure is so promising. But their rights cannot be judged only on the political basis. There many other measures that are imperative to be observed, like that of social and cultural ones.
Now even in the capital Kabul, university and schools girls are anxious to walk alone in the streets of Kabul during day time, because they are teased and sexually harrassed by those who, if asked, have no problem with women rights. They are regularly teased and harassed by male citizens for ignorable reasons, for example, the style of clothing, make-up, and, frequently, without any reason.
No doubt, good progresses have been made since 2001. In big cities, they are not escorted any more by male fellows. They have quite convenient presence in educational and political spheres. School and university girls have increased tremendously. Their percentage in some faculty approached to percentage of boys.
Considering developments and increasing presence Afghan women in the society, some are still worried a reversal move. The declaration of Ulama council shows that a reversal move may not be impossible or hard even.
They still have problem with co-education. It is not clear how employed women and men should be separated in government or private sectors. Because with the current integration, it looks impossible. a woman news reporter cannot arrange everything if she works separately in television where her colleagues are male.
I will write in much detail about the declaration and notion of sex segregation from different points of views.