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How a reviled Afghan law on women went from a magazine to a maelstrom

Globe and Mail Update

Legal activists in Kabul tried to sound alarms about its content to international stakeholders, but got nowhere ...Read the full article

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  1. Jeremy K from Burnaby, Canada writes: That Karzai would dare sign this bill is indicative of the weakness of the west and the strength of conservative Islam in Afghanistan. He chose to pander to the Taliban knowing full well how embarrassing it would be for his western backers and how angry it would make us here in the west.

    Sure the west has military forces there sufficient to protect themselves. But other than that what power do we really yield?
  2. michael moore from toronto, Canada writes: It's a problem when you insist that a country have a democratic government and then that democratic government does not support the things you think a democratic government should support. Messy business.

    And then there's Iraq.
  3. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: The Globe writer uses terms like "exploded" and "detonated" to describe "world" reaction to the Hazara law. It has hardly been mentioned in the U.S. media, and generally doesn't seem as big a story as she claims. I wonder why.

    For one thing, the law has nothing to do with the Taliban; it shows instead the Afghan reality that extends far beyond the minority Hazara population--the Pashtuns are even more severe in their segregation of women. And all this time we were being told that the Taliban are a complete aberration.

    Well, they are--in Afghan terms; but in Western liberal terms, we might not notice all that much difference outside the cities (the Western media exlusively quotes relatively liberated Kabul and other urban residents, but they are a small minority).

    This must be very embarrassing to anyone who has been promoting the U.S.-led Coalition's involvement as being on the verge of turning Afghanistan into a "saved nation" (as opposed to a "failed nation"). Simply put, the 80% majority of rural Afghans are 100 years at least from anything remotely like our liberal Western democracy.

    A side-effect of Western outrage over this democratically approved law is the further undermining of President Karzai (especially if he succeeds in getting it withdrawn), who has long been despised as a Western puppet. Who, I wonder, will Afghans choose to replace him.
  4. Roop Misir from Toronto, Canada writes: Does anybody really care about whether dogs bark or frog croak?

    Those that have gray matter (or anything else), let them ponder!
  5. Ooch Ouch from Canada writes:

    Why are we jamming democracy down these people's throats? It's clear they don't want one.

    .
  6. Udom Thongpai from Victoria, Canada writes: Karzai himself is a former member of the Taliban, of course. The law simply recognizes what is common practice throughout Afghanistan. Reports are that he was trying to gain the support of the Shia minority, who, like the rest of the country barely acknowledge the central government. To get them on board, he made a gesture that told them that nothing would change if they supported him.

    The business of marital age is meaningless. The Afghan constitution already sets the minimum age at 16, but only a handful get marriage licenses and girls as young as 8 are routinely sold into marriage. If you asked a thousand Afghans what the legal age is it's doubtful you'd find even one who knew.
  7. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: Ooch Ouch: Ironically, this law was passed by Afghanistan's democratically elected government. I think the question is: "What do you do when democracies (that you imposed) make laws you don't like?"
  8. BoB ImamI from Canada writes: ..//

    I forgot about it already.

    ..//
  9. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: Udom Thongpai: To be fair, Karzai, as a lesser mujahideen warlord, briefly allied himself with the Taliban as long as he thought they would bring peace to Afghanistan by quelling the civil war. However, he quickly turned against them when he saw the primitive social agenda they were imposing in areas he had helped them conquer. He is a very sophisticated fellow--but in an impossible situation, between Western expectations and Afghan reality.

    I agree with the rest of your insightful comments, as usual.
  10. Red-necked and persecuted from Canada writes: Where are the womens' rights groups? Their silence is deafening.
  11. Marty Nice from Canada writes:
    Red-necked and persecuted from Canada writes: Where are the womens' rights groups? Their silence is deafening.

    ================================================

    Maybe they're out doing something instead of just yappin' here.

    .
  12. Heather Kean from Canada writes: I think that Nick makes a valid point, this issue hardly "exploded." I originally found out about this issue from Huffington Post and a feminist blog. I was happy to see Canadian maintream media pick up the story, but America has been lagging in coverage.
    As for the comment "Why are we jamming democracy down these people's throats? It's clear they don't want one."
    This is not jamming democracy down their throats... this is demanding that human rights be expected. The world should refuse to just stand by and allow a law to exist that declares women second class citizens. There are basic human rights which EVERYONE deserves - regardless of gender and what political ideology a country adheres to.
  13. Red-necked and persecuted from Canada writes: Marty Nice from Canada writes:
    Red-necked and persecuted from Canada writes: Where are the womens' rights groups? Their silence is deafening.

    ================================================

    Maybe they're out doing something instead of just yappin' here.

    You don't really believe that?
  14. Hee Hoo Sai from Canada writes: Read the G&M, the womens rights bunch have arranged for girls only floors in hotels, thereby assureing that equality is preserved. Not to mention that having been recently liberated from tobacco, now men will be liberated from toxic toilet water. As for Afghanistan, democracy is the will of the people, who's will on what people?
  15. Anton Berger from Kelowna, Canada writes: Jeremy K from Burnaby, Canada writes: That Karzai would dare sign this bill is indicative of the weakness of the west and the strength of conservative Islam in Afghanistan. He chose to pander to the Taliban knowing full well how embarrassing it would be for his western backers and how angry it would make us here in the west.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I would agree fully, except that the main point of this article was that the law in question was two years in the making. in that entire time, the west showed a profound sense of apathy. it's not that Karzai dared to sign this law knowing that it would anger the west - it's that he signed the law knowing only that the west didn't give a rat's a$$.

    as other posters have pointed out; even now the west isn't overly concerned by this law. at least not the governments here that should care (beyond winning votes back home anyway). it all just begs the question in my mind - why exactly are we there? why are we sending out men and women off to be killed when there's no effort being put out by our governments?
  16. J B from Canada writes: Who says you have to travel back to the past to see the Dark Ages!!
  17. J B from Canada writes: I couldn't agree more with: Where are the womens' rights groups? Their silence is deafening.
  18. Eric Hedstrom from Calgary, Canada writes: If this is the law then imagine what the practice is. Girls age 7 sold into marriage for $100 to 60 year old men. We will be there for a 100 years. It's probably worth it.
  19. Paul Thompson from Canada writes: Eric Hedstrom, unless you're kidding, you are absolutely out of your mind.
  20. Job of the book from Toronto, Canada writes: I'd love to see an interview of the other side. What are the crazy justifications for these laws? The mentality behind it interests me. I think if you made these people sit down and try to justify such things they might start to feel a bit silly and at least see that they don't really have any good reasons beyond their own smug sense of self superiority.
  21. LJ Brody from Canada writes: How can the author claim this law is 'reviled'?

    Clearly it is quite popular with the Afghans themselves.

    Perhaps the problem is democracy, it doesn't work for us when other people have the right to speak for themselves. Maybe we should replace democracy with dictatorship - we have been more successful with that.
  22. Tracey Lauriault from Ottawa, Canada writes: Gender apartheid! Pure and simple. Deep cultural change is what is required, democracy as we impose it is not deep at all. Dialogue and years of community development work is what is required! But alas, that is expensive and takes time, we want fast results that are not systemically widespread and deep. Some of the comments here demonstrate we also have work to do here!
  23. Ron MacGillivray from Flatbush, ab, Canada writes: All I can say is that these must be confusing times for those riding the "we're in Afghanistan defending women's rights against the Taliban" bandwagon.
  24. Orest Zarowsky from Toronto, Canada writes: Calling Afghanistan a democracy is way too funny. And shows that those making such claims really and truly don't understand the concept. For an interesting compare and contrast case, see the USSR. See also what is happening in Russia of late. Mexico and Columbia are also apropos case studies - especially from the "illegal" drug side - see "Narco-state".

    The most important point in the article is that the law was two years in the making and that the Western advisers ignored all attempts by local people who were concerned by the content of the proposed law to raise the issue. What this indicates is that the Western powers were informed, but swept the issue under the rug. The question is why?

    What we see here is an especially vicious cynicism and betrayal of those basic principles that we are sending our troops off to die and be maimed for. It is also very clear that all that talk about women's rights is nothing more than spin and a distraction.

    The RRW neo-con thugs - you know who you / they are - posting in this thread just prove the point that those who are pushing the "War on Terror" and our involvement in Afghanistan are looking to implement similar crap here. This law is exactly how the RRW wants women to be considered and treated.

    Afghanistan is 1,000 years behind the times. Socially, politically, ethically and morally. It is not possible to change this in even 4 generations, and that requires a much higher level of education, literacy, political maturity and communications than Afghanistan has.

    Not to mention that separation of Church and Sate thingy. Which Afghanistan's new constitution explicitly prohibits and prevents. Now there's a very huge "oopsie".

    So far, nothing that has been reported out of that hellhole indicates that there is any real hope of achieving any of those requirements.

    All spin by the RRW notwithstanding.
  25. Orest Zarowsky from Toronto, Canada writes: @ Job of the book: Twit, fool and idiot that your comment proves you are. Which part of religious extremist is unclear?

    For that matter, the "related articles" list has a link to an interview with a principal author and backer of the law.

    You are - clearly - a CPC shill. And a troll to boot.
  26. Dik Coates from Winnipeg, Canada writes:
    What's worse...

    A democratic 'caveman' like society passing legislation that is not welcome by the rest of the civilised world, or an enlightened democratic society protecting those that break existing laws by torture.

    Where is the moral high ground.
    Dik
  27. gender bender from Espanola, Canada writes: What other practices are commonplace there but maybe not written into law.Like beheading anyone who leaves the fold, female circumcison where the surgery isn't of a cosmetic nature like with male circumcison.Or how about the ritual slitting of innocent animals throats yearly because somehow the loving and merciful God wants baby sheep to have their throats cut so people can prove their love for him.
    If a western person actually lived there which he could'nt because he would soon be kidnapped/beheaded he would think he was on another planet
  28. Toby Maloney from Winnipeg, Canada writes: Everyone who believes Canada has to respect the decisions of the elected government of Afghanistan, will now surely agree that we have to do the same when it comes to the Hamas in Gaza?
  29. Mark Tilley from Brampton, Canada writes:

    There's one perspective on this that I haven't seen raised yet, so I'll do that now.

    While the law should be reviled for it's treatment of women, perhaps the criticism that would have a greater effect would be the utter ridicule of the rest of the world for the men of Afghanistan who need a law to get their wives to have sex with them.

    What kind of men are they anyway?

    Clearly it's not only their understanding of human rights that is deficient, it's their performance in bed!
  30. Li Chi Ho from Saskatoon, Canada writes: I think Mark Tilley from Brampton just hit the nail, folks. Bravo, Mark.
  31. Ed Gadz from Toronto, Canada writes: It is vitally important for human rights and democracy that religion be removed from any Constitutional document. The Afghan Constitution references the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But so long as Islam is allowed to corrupt Afghan political policy and the Afghan legal system, then human rights and innocent people will suffer at the hands of evil-minded evil-doers.
  32. marlene stobbart from High River, Canada writes: ABSOLUTE tyranny over women! The male bastion must be extremely weak and fearful to allow this law and/or put it back into effect. Our Canadians lost their lives to bring change to a country with a weak, ineffectual government, who apparently also tell stories, etc. Sharia law almost made it into Ontario. Shame, shame and more shame on men who bring religion as their main reason to beat, divorce, kill, main, rape, stone and terrorize the female gender - including their own daughters. Perverse monsters who are or criminally insane is the classification for these men. Why has not the western world brought this to the world court? The answer would probably be, it's not politically correct.
  33. Joe Dick from Canada writes: This law is only reviled in western cultures.

    Other then a small protest, recent surveys indicate the overwhelming majority of Afghan women support it.
  34. Jeremy K from Burnaby BC, Canada writes: Anton
    I'm sure karzai has known what he would do for 2 years now. and yes apathy is probably right. people are simply tired of the war and want it to mean something.
  35. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: marlene stobbart: You point to an important issue:

    The way the Coalition mission in Afghanistan has developed since 2001 could be roughly compared to a big-city police force charging into a bad neighbourhood in pursuit of a violent gang (al Qaeda) that operates from there, and somehow ending up trying to change the attitudes and lifestyles of the ordinary residents. Meanwhile, the violent gang has moved to a different neighbourhood (Pakistan) and is operating from there quite comfortably.
  36. Brenton E. from Canada writes: Religion, how to seperate the spiritual from the political? What is a woman's place in the religion. The 2 great religious pillars, fear of death and the control of women.
  37. Trillian Rand from Canada writes: As odious as this law is, the many complaints against it and the few defences by Afghans have missed its fundamental flaw: it is not democratic.

    The law targets a specific sex of a particular minority group, setting out specific expectations and, one assumes, penalties. This runs contrary to the generally accepted notion that every citizen of a democracy has the same rights and privileges as every other citizen, regardless of their sex or religious orientation. Arguing that this legislation is an attack on women's rights will guarantee a stronger emotional response, but it entirely ignores the more deeply rooted and serious problem.

    Democracy demands more than a legislature and public elections. It demands basic concepts that underly those functions. If 'the West' is unwilling to point out the fundamental problem with this legislation, it perpetuates the belief that democracy is no more than an electoral process and encourages Afghan legislators to continue writing such discriminatory laws. In fact, I've read articles that a similar law is in the works for Shiite women.

    If democracy is to be successful in Afghanistan, it must be built on solid foundations. That this law was even contemplated shows we have not done our work and have a long way to go.
  38. Sylvia Wilson from Canada writes: Wresting power from the male gender wasn't an easy thing for the female gender in developed countries. Women were thrown in jail and had to resort to hunger strikes in order to get the franchise. Women in developed countries have only had the vote for less than one hundred years yet civilization and laws had existed for thousands.

    Women who protested above these cavemen, Afghanistan laws recently passed were reviled by the male population--sworn at, called whores.

    No it won't be easy in such a backward country to get the same rights as males. But time is women's ally despite strong objections from males; they will achieve it. The female population just has to keep demanding it, and unfortunately may have to suffer the same conditions as females from the more developed countries before achieving it.
  39. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: The last two posts assume that rural Afghan women feel the law is an imposition upon them. What evidence do we have that they do? I note that the handful of urban, relatively educated women who protested in Kabul were reviled by women as well as by men. Urban and rural Afghan attitudes towards social traditions are very different.

    Perhaps the law is just a way of clarifying for cases of legal dispute those existing unwritten rules that people already accept and live by.

    I question the appropriateness of projecting our values and ideas onto other people who live in a very different world, and question even more so our wading into their lives to force change.

    Because I don't know the real conditions under which the law was proposed, I am neither justifying nor condeming it; I am just questioning some of the assumptions (and the lack of knowledge) that often lie behind our reactions
  40. Chicoine or Ciccone or Kikkoine from Montreal, Canada writes: We need to send shields and helmets and other protective gear to help afghan women set up more protests.
  41. Wayne Curtis from Toronto, Canada writes: Those who tought the Nazi philosophy were eventually tried and killed off as Nazis. Those that teach this filth of the Taliban should alsl be killed off, their mosques burned and thier magazines closed up.
  42. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: Wayne Curtis: You are living proof that not everyone who "tought the Nazi philosophy (was) eventually tried and killed off as Nazis." Killing off entire populations you don't like, burning their churches, and closing their magazines is precisely the Nazi philosophy.
  43. F H from Ottawa, Canada writes: "What are the crazy justifications for these laws?"

    The justification, as spelled out last week by one of their clerics is that as women for the most part are uneducated and illiterate, their husbands should expect their 'maritial rights' in exchange for bringing home the bacon.

    Oddly enough, he didn't see that the justification basically makes the women prostitues who exchange their bodies for cash. Nor does he see that the obvious solution is to ensure that all Afghani women be taught how to read and write and get a proper education so they won't have to sell themselves.

    Just imagine how many women would have shown up with the 300 plus brave protesters if they'd been given permission to leave their houses. We HAVE to stay otherwise women such as these would be shot on sight.
  44. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: F H: There were no Coalition soldiers in sight at the demonstration to prevent the women who did protest being "shot on sight"; there were, however, female Afghan police officers forming a protective ring around them. I assume the police work for the government that made the law.

    Exactly how does keeping our military in Afghanistan affect how they make their laws?

    It is ironic that you say "Oddly enough, he didn't see that the justification basically makes the women prostitues who exchange their bodies for cash." There is a great deal of that going on within marriage in the Western liberal democracies; it just isn't codified in law--unless of course we include the body of law surrounding divorce and alimony . . . caveat emptor indeed.
  45. Trillian Rand from Canada writes: Nick Wright writes: "The last two posts assume that rural Afghan women feel the law is an imposition upon them."

    I've made no such assumption. In fact, I barely mentioned the specifics of the law at all. The assumptions underlying this law - that different laws can be written for different groups - is the main problem, not that this particular minority group of women was selected. Any law specifically targeting any group, even one that set out special conditions for urban males of a particular religious group but not rural males of another, would be just as odious.
  46. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: Trillian Rand: What about North American decency laws that forbid women to go topless in public but not men? Is such law not democratic? It is there to protect those (presumably the majority) of the public who might be offended or disgusted, not to protect the woman from molestation.
  47. chanel turner from Canada writes: There may be some support for this law from some Afgan women- but I wonder-- what is the alternative? It may be stoning for saying no- it may be you have to put out every day- unless of course he has more wives then you only have to wait your turn.....
  48. james p from Canada writes: I'm beginning to see why the Middle East is so dysfunctional. Wow. I used to blame the meddlesome West. Now I see it's not our fault at all. I'll read more Thomas Paine and thank my lucky stars I wasn't born a woman in Afghanistan.
  49. Richard Roskell from Canada writes: Trillian Rand, you raise an interesting point but I'm not sure that you've thought it through completely. Namely, it is not necessarily anti-democratic to make laws which treat different people in different ways.

    In Canada, a man can walk around in public with a bare chest, whereas a woman might be arrested for doing so. We have laws which apply to First Nations' people, but not to non-aboriginals. We give Canadians different legal status depending on their age, and so forth.

    Creating laws which apply solely to a certain group is in no way undemocratic, per se. Indeed, sometimes such laws are written to correct an injustice.
  50. Syed Abbas from Seattle WA, United States writes:

    Orest Zarowsky: Greetings

    " .. Afghanistan is 1,000 years behind the times. Socially, politically, ethically and morally ..."

    The Afghan socio-politics reflects its economy. It is 100% in tune with its times.

    Is Canada any better? The 500 year old Corporate Model is coming apart.

    Zero Responsibility (corporate)
    Positive Interest Rates
    Income/Spending/Excise taxation
    Closely guarded borders
    Wastefulness

    The New Economy demands

    Full Responsibility
    Zero Interest Rates
    Asset Taxation
    Borderless world - free movement of people, goods, money
    Frugality

    Here the US Obama is coming up to speed fast. Will Canada follow or continue its old ways?

    Cheers

  51. Trillian Rand from Canada writes: Nick Wright and Richard Roskell:

    Codifying moral behaviour is common, but that does not always make it right. Yes, we have general prohibitions against certain behaviours that hide behind labels of public decency or lewdness, but they are all inherently inequitable. The suggestion that a man's chest is sexless while a woman's will drive men to acts of insanity is patently ridiculous. Many of my female friends assure me they get the same feelings from looking at a well-built male chest as I get from the female form. Why then should the laws be different, especially when anyone with a computer can find more bare parts being used in more ways than many of us have considered possible by surfing the Internet?

    As regards dissimilar laws for First Nations, how many of them grew out of 'the white man's burden' and are now patently paternalistic and how many are the result of treaty agreements that have outlived their usefulness?

    Opening the door to the concept of differential laws allows judgements of inferiority/superiority, us/them and all the other illogical and falsely discriminatory constructs people use to make themselves feel superior. If we decide one person cannot have the same rights as everyone else, can we truly say we believe in freedom or equality or demand equal responsibility from anyone? If you believe that laws can be drafted to give an advantage to one group, would you welcome laws that worked to your disadvantage?

    The traditional view is that justice is blind. I don't believe that means she should be able to peek under the edge of her blindfold to look for differences on which to base a decision.
  52. Mark Tilley from Brampton, Canada writes:

    Trillian Rand,

    Codifying moral behaviour is precisely the raison d'etre of the law.

    Regarding your points about differential laws, I don't disagree in general, but righting past injustices may require them. You may find it interesting to read Stanley Fish's book "There's no such thing as free speech".

    Cheers.
  53. Richard Roskell from Naramata, Canada writes: Trust me, Trillian Rand, I'm not arguing for the inequalities you're describing. I find some laws unequal AND ridiculous, just as you do.

    But I note that the democratic process does not demand that all laws apply to each person equally. In some cases, applying the same law to each person exaggerates and entrenches existing inequalities, which I'm sure you'll agree would be contrary to the democratic ideal.

    Democracy is a form of government, which is in turn a method of creating laws. But there are many forms of government and societal control under which laws can be created. There is nothing to preclude a democratically-elected government from creating bad law; nor are dictatorships precluded from creating good law.

    Any law which is created through a democratic process could by definition be called a democratic law. Whether or not that law treats everyone equally; is justified in a free society; and is consistent with higher law and fundamental human rights... that's another matter entirely.
  54. F H from Ottawa, Canada writes: Nick Wright, you're assuming that the female police would even have EXISTED had there not been the coalition in Afghanistan to ensure that they wouldn't be killed for leaving their houses to get to their jobs.

    You're also assuming that I don't consider women in the West who are willing to exchange their bodies for money as opposed to love, even within marriage, to be the equivalent of prostitutes.
  55. F H from Ottawa, Canada writes: "Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: Trillian Rand: What about North American decency laws that forbid women to go topless in public but not men?"

    Actually, in Canada, women are completely within their legal rights to go topless. Most of us choose not to but that doesn't change the fact that we CAN if we wish to.
  56. Trillian Rand from Canada writes: Mark Tilley writes: "Codifying moral behaviour is precisely the raison d'etre of the law."

    I don't entirely disagree, but would prefer that codifying moral behaviour is one of the reasons for laws. While many laws are intended to induce socially acceptable behaviours in individuals, we also have a whole host of laws designed to induce similar behaviours in businesses and organizations which represent a more vague concept of morality.
  57. Syed Abbas from Seattle WA, United States writes:

    Trillian Rand: Greetings

    " ... The traditional view is that justice is blind .."

    Justice is never blind. The application of Law is. Despite the vain attempts of Laws to impose the will of the powerful, Justice always gets its ways.

    We have Courts of Law, not Courts of Justice. Few people in Canada can tell the difference between Law and Justice, not even Lawyers and Judges (confided to me privately by a retired CJ of Ontario).

    Laws are made by the those who have power. However, the Just Lord imposes His own Justice somehow, defeating all silly Laws in the long run.

    Cheers
  58. Trillian Rand from Canada writes: Richard Roskell writes: "Any law which is created through a democratic process could by definition be called a democratic law. Whether or not that law treats everyone equally; is justified in a free society; and is consistent with higher law and fundamental human rights... that's another matter entirely."

    I agree. It's just that I have an inextinguishable sense of the ideal that says we should strive for perfection, not acceptable. I realize laws can only be as perfect as the people who make them. That however, won't discourage me from speaking out, especially when the underlying fundamentals of democracy are cavalierly ignored.

    If we don't demand better, we are doomed to worse. Or, as Robert Browning so wisely said: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
  59. Trillian Rand from Canada writes: Syed Abbas writes: "Few people in Canada can tell the difference between Law and Justice, not even Lawyers and Judges (confided to me privately by a retired CJ of Ontario)."

    Perhaps because many people have an equally poor understanding of the difference between justice and revenge.
  60. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: F H wrote: "Actually, in Canada, women are completely within their legal rights to go topless. Most of us choose not to but that doesn't change the fact that we CAN if we wish to."

    I suggest you do a little research on that point before being so categorical. What constitutes "indecency" under Section 173 of the Criminial Code is indeed subject to interpretation according to the circumstances, but a lady walking topless through the streets of Halifax or Ottawa I suggest will almost assuredly get herself arrested, or at least required by the police to cover up.

    You make a good point about female police officers being unlikely without foreign intervention, but it would be unusual under any Afghan administration, not just the Taliban. From "Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace", by Christine Johnson and Jolyon Leslie (2004):

    "'Family attitudes, not government guarantees, decided the future of girls', wrote Nancy Dupree (1984), reflecting on the 1970s. In many ways little has changed, and those who focused on the Taliban's restrictions forgot the all-powerful depth of tradition in some places. Women carry the honour of the family and their behaviour reflects on the men of that family; change for womern is thus impossible unless there is a change in the attitudes of men. These attitudes do not just exist in rural areas, nor do they solely belong to uneducated people, but they are engrained in the most educated and seemingly worldly of families, those who have jobs with embassies and the UN, who travel abroad and dine with foreign friends. Explaining how foreign agencies wanting to run programmes with women should talk first to thier husbands, one professional Afghan working with a foreign agency put it quite simply: 'If you talk to my wife first, I will kill her.'"
  61. F H from Ottawa, Canada writes: " but a lady walking topless through the streets of Halifax or Ottawa I suggest will almost assuredly get herself arrested, or at least required by the police to cover up."

    Actually I've been to dozens public event with topless women and have seen topless women walk down Ottawa's public streets. Yes, they get hooted and hollered sometimes by the more immature guys out there but are not arrested or told to cover up as they do, indeed, have a legal right to be topless and have had for quite some time.

    But yes, you're right, any paternalistic regime, especially if it's also a theocracy, is against women being considered equal in the eyes of the law. Which is why we must stay in order to assist the women brave enough to take on those regimes and make changes from within.

    I was VERY impressed with the men who were their to support their wives and daughters who were protesting. It makes we wonder just how many Afghani men out there actually support treating their women like people instead of chattel but don't say anything because they're just as afraid of the government as the women quite rightfully are.
  62. Don Quixote from the sunny Mosquito Belt, Ont., Canada writes: Societies which shun the education, equalness and freedom of women in their frame works, are unmasked as immature protection outfits for immature males......

    As such they are over long or short doomed, as it takes both genders to make society work.
  63. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: FH. Congratulations to Ottawa! However, I think my point holds: North America's "indecency" laws are determined by province and state, so what may be gloriously displayed in Ottawa must legally remain under wraps in other jurisdictions.

    I think you missed one point of my last post: Afghans aren't afraid of the government; they are afraid of social opprobrium in their own village.

    We tend to see our attitudes and values as absolute--simply because we hold them. Afghans don't necessarily share them. On a practical level, pushing our views guarantees backlash and fierce resistance to "our" efforts--most likely at the cost of those "brave" women we condemn with our support. Our good intentions don't absolve us of responsibility for what happens to them once we make them our proxy champions of women's rights (or martyrs) half a world away.

    Again from "Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace."

    I have found this book to be a most compassionate, passionate and insightful look into international involvement in Afghanistan; I recommend it to anyone who wants a glimpse behind the scenes and a sense of the true bigger picture.
  64. Nick Wright from Halifax, Canada writes: I don't know why the book paragraph quote in my last post was deleted; perhaps the G&M editor was nervous about copyright law. Of course it gutted my post. I'll try again in case it was my fault.

    Again from "Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace":

    "There are, of course, families where parents would always discuss the question of marriage with their children and would never force anything upon them, but for those still held within the bounds of conservative tradition it is often impossible to go against parental wishes. Not only do the demands of honour exact a fearful price, ... but in a culture where family means so much, how do you countenance being cut off from all your kin? For women it is hardest. ... That even strong young women (could) not push (the) door fully open gives some indication of just how long the process of change will take, how it will need generations. We should not be surprised; and yet often the international community has talked of women's rights as if someone could just flick a switch and bring them into being."
  65. Richard Roskell from Canada writes: Any woman in Canada could be arrested for walking bare-chested in public: she could be arrested for "creating a disturbance to the peace." It makes no difference that immature males would be the ones causing the ruckus- it would be the woman who's arrested.

    (It's unlikely she would be charged, and highly unlikely that she would be prosecuted and convicted. But she could be, because even in Canada some laws are not applied to everyone equally.)

    By the way, it's not just females who might receive unequal treatment from the law in Canada. Not so long ago, Canada had corporal punishment on its lawbooks. Certain male offenders would be whipped in court if found guilty. That's in my lifetime, folks. Bear that in mind as you consider Afghan justice today.
  66. Richard Roskell from Canada writes: There are many perceptive observations being forwarded here concerning the rights of women in Canada and Afghanistan. But I believe that there is a more fundamental point to be made concerning human rights in undeveloped, tribal societies such as is the norm in Afghanistan.

    Even at their best, people from developed nations can barely imagine the nature of tribal life in a harsh and primitive land. Life under those conditions means that every day, in everything you do, your basic survival is on the line. There is no government safety nety. There's no 9-11. There's nothing but your family, and the tribe which supports it. And in a primitive agrarian society in an impoverished land, you live from season to season.

    This is how the vast majority of Afghans exist.

    Westerners receive their security and support structure from our national governments. In return, we must obey all the laws that government enacts- including the ones we don't agree with. Tribal life is much the same in this regard, simply on a smaller scale. The individual receives support in myriad ways from the tribe, as long as he or she obeys all the laws of the tribe. In neither case does the individual get to choose which laws they will obey and which they will ignore.

    Life in a subsistance environment means that every role has a reason for being ordered the way it is. And every role is subordinated to the survival of the family and the tribe- including those of the individual male. A male Afghan will, for example, defend the honour of the women in his household- to his own death if need be.

    Outside forces which demand a change to the way Afghans have structured their families likewise tamper with the entire tribal structure, and it is that tribal structure which supports Afghans- not their government.
  67. Richard Roskell from Canada writes: Afghan tribal society was born from a life of subsistance in a harsh land. That existence had a profound influence on the way Afghans ordered their tribal lives. When outsiders- even well-meaning outsiders- encourage or demand rapid change in the way the tribal society is ordered, it may have a very destructive impact on that society.

    Now, it would be one thing if the Afghans had a humanitarian safety net to fall into. But the world isn't welcoming Afghan refugees with open arms. Quite the contrary, in fact. And there is no strong, honest government in Afghanistan to look after their own people. Again, quite the contrary. Therefore, Afghan people look to their tribes for support, simply to stay alive.
  68. charlie brown from Canada writes: Richard. I doubt if certain male offenders were actually whipped in the court room. The point you seem to miss is that we moved beyond that practice while the current Afghan Government appears to be regressing.
  69. Jim Terrets from Vancouver, writes: This week, on his widely broadcast radio show, popular and Acdemy-award winning celebrity Jamie Foxx said that 16 year old Miley Cyrus should:"..make a sex tape and grow up," get a "gum transplant," and get a sexually transmitted disease from a bicycle seat.

    Mr. Foxx wasn't censured or criticized at all for his comments. He's still as popular and loved as he ever was.

    And, the BBC reports:

    "According to several studies of the US military funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, 30% of military women are raped while serving, 71% are sexually assaulted, and 90% are sexually harassed.

    The Department of Defense acknowledges the problem, estimating in its 2009 annual report on sexual assault (issued last month) that some 90% of military sexual assaults are never reported. "

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8005198.stm

    It's obvious that the US has a cultural and institutional hatred of women. Therefore, we need to invade the US to save women and to teach the people of the US to respect and treat women as equal citizens.
  70. Richard Roskell from Naramata, Canada writes: charlie brown from Canada writes: "Richard. I doubt if certain male offenders were actually whipped in the court room."

    No offense, but you doubt because you have insufficient historical perspective on the matter. I assure you, in my lifetime some male offenders were whipped in Canadian courts.

    The point you seem to miss is that no one invaded Canada and made war in our country to force our society to stop whipping prisoners. Nor did anyone invade the US to force their society to give civil rights to blacks. These evolutionary improvements happened without outside interference. Likewise, Afghans deserve the chance to improve their society on their own terms- not by having those changes forced on them by outsiders.

    Just as Canadian society has evolved in many ways during my lifetime, other societies do too. Take away the war, and Afghans too will go about the business of improving their society.

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