Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Panorama shows plight of Afghan Women

Last night I settled down to watch Panorama, knowing that I'd find it absolutely horrendous to see its depiction of the terrible repression in Afghanistan.

Reporter Jane Corbin had been to Afghanistan and had interviewed women who had suffered terrible brutality, who showed incredible bravery in speaking out about their ordeals. My 10 year old daughter came in to the room just as 17 year old Saida was explaining how she'd been married off at the age of 9, sold by her brothers to a 60 year old man who beat her and forced her into prostitution. It took her 7 years to excape this vile creature. Anna was quite shocked by the contrast between her carefree life, reflecting on the fun we'd had altogether at a fruit picking farm, where the most taxing thing she had to do was help her daddy find a way through the maze, and the lives of these young girls her age thousands of miles away.

Then there was Zeinab, who had set herself alight after years of beatings from her husband and who saw no alternative but to return to him after she recovered.

We heard that despite the law, the majority of marriages are forced, that 80% of women face domestic violence, and, not at all coincidentally, the same proportion is illiterate, yet in this climate of oppression, courageous and inspiring women look to the future. There's the lawyer, Maria, who has armed guards outside her house after the Taleban tried to blow her up to stop her working. There's Maryam, driven out of her village after winning second prize in the Afghan version of Dragon's Den and who plans to use her winnings to build a factory and employ women - which she can only do if their husbands consent but which will show women that there's another way to live where they can have a say in their own destiny. There's the young MP, frustrated at the Government's failure to make progress on women's rights.

I was particularly moved by the 13 year old girl who was determined to continue her education and become a doctor. When asked what would happen if she was forced into marriage, she said that her husband would just have to let her continue her studies. I hope her idealism is not in vain and she gets the chance to do that.

Depressingly, there was also the only woman remaining in President Hamid Karzai's cabinet. She looked resigned and almost uncomfortable as she spouted the Party line -that cultural change doesn't happen overnight and could take decades. I suspect it'll take a good bit longer than that if men can get away with beating and raping their wives, never having to fear prosecution because they'll likely be able to bribe their way out of it. Presumably the Minister's willingness to comply was the reason she was the sole woman in office.

We also heard that President Karzai's wife is herself a doctor, who could show an example to other women - remember these powerful images of Mousavi's wife in Iran and how that turned the election - but who is not allowed by her husband to appear in public.

I think what made me most uncomfortable, though, was the fact that they were showing the footage of women's situation to the mother of a soldier who died there. At the end, Jane Corbin asked her more than once whether she thought her son had died in vain given the treatment of women in Afghanistan. It looked like they were pushing her to say that he had, which I felt was a bit insensitive and unfair.

I think what the programme showed was that the Afghan Government, despite having the benefit of thousands of international forces to help them, is only able to pay lip service to the laws guaranteeing equality and fairness to all. It's surely time for President Obama and Gordon Brown to put more pressure on whoever the President is after the elections to put its words into actions and stop the terrible abuses faced by most Afghan women.


subrosa said...

The US, EC and UK aren't worried about women's rights in Afghanistan Caron. They're quite happy to plough billions of taxpayers money into the country.

Until money is withdrawn and Afghanis have to stand on their own two feet little will change on that country.

Sadly the women will have to continue fighting, same as women did in this country more than a century ago.

Unknown said...

Subrosa, that's the most depressing thing. They will probably view this "war on terror" which we're not supposed to call it any more, as the most important thing and will turn a blind eye to the very real repression of the women as they pursue that end. If it were me, I'd be telling Karzai he'd be on his own if he didn't start bringing men who mistreat women to justice and stop this awful practice of forcing bairns into marriage.

I was totally against the Iraq war, and I do feel that we've lost our way in Afghanistan, but I do think that our intervention there is at least legal.

I think we're allowing the regime to stick two fingers up at us at the moment - the equality laws are mere words on a page unless someone turns them into a reality and it's clear that the Government has no intention of doing so.

I despair, I really do.

Boltonlad said...

Any civilised person watching Panorama last week on BBC 1 about the treatment of women in Afghanistan's Muslim society and what our troops are fighting for. Could not help to have been totally shocked, upset and appalled at the horrendous treatment of many Muslim women and young girls.. There were graphic personal testimonies of girls as young as nine years old sold to old men by their own families to become one of their wives and be subjected to daily sexual and physical abuse, also young women who had set themselves on fire rather suffer the continuing physical and sexual abuse from their husbands (one hospital reported admitting four young badly burnt women in one day), women in their thousands are forced to walk in public completely covered from head to toe apart from a 'cloth mesh viewing grill'; like the burka but even worse, intelligent women with no say in their country or their community, and the continued attacks on schools for girls; to stop them from receiving an education. It is almost totally a mans world and women are treated as though they have no value other than for sex on demand from their husbands, to have children and otherwise be ready for every domestic demand from their adult male family members. It is truly medieval to put it mildly, something from the dark ages to treat women in this way is inhumane and barbaric.

If anyone was in any doubt what more than 200 British soldiers have sacrificed their lives for, they should have watched this programme. No civilised country can stand by and allow women and young girls to be treated in such an inhumane and uncivilised way. What is so unbelievable is that that this is done in the name of Islam, even though there is nothing in the Koran to support this. This is brutality enforced by the Taliban and their fundamentalist supporters and sympathisers, with other so called more moderate Muslims men in the Afghan Government turning a blind eye to such obvious abuses and failing to prosecute the male perpetrators. Even the few token women in Government who were interviewed, seemed powerless to act; resigned to the fact they cannot change things.

Things must change if the sacrifices of allied forces are worth anything, otherwise what are we fighting for?

There is another lesson we must learn from this programme; not to allow Shira law or the acceptance of the unequal treatment of Muslim females in the UK. It is not good enough for the UK Government authorities and its agencies to continue to turn a blind eye to known abuses of Muslim women in UK families and communities. It must be made clear to Muslim men that all women in the UK are entitled to equal rights including the freedom of choice, movement and speech. With full protection from the law.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy is right, there should be no place for the acceptance of women being forced or coerced into wearing the burka in our civilised western society (or any other society for that matter), allowing this is giving the green light to other far worse inequalities and encouragement of wrongful subordinate attitudes towards women by their own men folk.


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