Inequality of Equals
I laugh when I am happy. I shed tears when I am sad. I feel pain when I am hit. I bleed when I am cut. I am resilient. I am compassionate. I dream of equality and freedom. I am the bearer of life. I am not a burden or a commodity. I am flesh and blood like you. What am I? I am a Woman.
The plight of women in Afghanistan reached its nadir under the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.
It is a sad truth that in many parts of the world women have been and are deprived of basic human rights and civil liberties either by official government ruling or by their own families e.g. husbands, fathers, and brothers. The plight of women in Afghanistan especially over the last few decades has been deplorable and this seems to have reached its nadir under the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. During the Taliban regime, the treatment of women shocked and horrified the rest of the world. We watched in dismay at the degradation and debasement women were subjected to on a daily basis. They had no recourse to any legal or financial aid during this time. Women were forced to cover themselves from head to toe, even covering their eyes. They were forbidden to work. This meant that households with no male members had to resort to begging, or prostitution to escape starvation. Even women who themselves were doctors and teachers or had previously worked in offices, found themselves housebound and sometimes also forced into begging to be able to feed their families. Women could not leave the house without a male escort and if they were stopped on the streets without one, they were beaten and at times incarcerated. They were also not allowed to seek medical help from a male doctor many of the hospitals refused to see or admit female patients. The few hospitals that took in female patients were understaffed and had the bare minimum of medicines and equipment. And the saddest part of this is it was all carried out in the name of religion.
This kind of oppression of women has become inaccurately synonymous with Islam. However, if one is to look at the teachings of Islam, it is interesting to note that far from being a religion that advocates inequality and subjugation of women, it was an innovator for women's rights. If we think about the fact that the birth of Islam was over 1400 years ago, it is noteworthy that even at that time, Islam stated that men and women were equal in the eyes of God. Centuries before the women suffragettes began their movement in the west; Islam gave women the right to vote. It was only in 1920 that women were allowed the vote in the United States of America and in the United Kingdom; women were able to vote with the same conditions as men in 1928. This so called “oppressive” religion established the right to inheritance where a woman was allowed to possess property and wealth that belonged solely to her. They had the right to work, and even choose their own partners in marriage. It also allowed her the right to divorce her husband. In those days this religion may have even been considered progressive.
It is rather strange that there are societies that deny their women any basic rights and resort to tyranny and barbarism and claim to base their beliefs on the teachings of Islam. It is unsurprising that at these times certain facts are conveniently erased from their collective memory such as our Prophet Muhammad's marriage to Bibi Khadija an independent and successful business woman in her own right and also his employer. Not only was she his employer but Bibi Khadija was also 15 years his senior.
Malalai Joya, Afghanistan's youngest Member of Parliament.
After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the situation in Afghanistan has changed quite considerably. In the last six years, both the political, cultural and financial position of Afghan women has seen a marked improvement. The recent Afghan constitution proclaims that "the citizens of Afghanistan - whether man or woman - have equal rights and duties before the law" and this has enabled women to be allowed to return back to work as teachers and doctors etc. The government no longer forces women to wear the burqhas covering them from head to toe, and some women have even been appointed to prominent positions in the government such as Malalai Joya who is Afghanistan's youngest Member of Parliament. She has attained this position despite numerous death threats for having the courage to publicly denounce Afghanistan warlords and has also survived four assassination attempts.
Despite all these positive changes many challenges still remain in a country that has been war ravaged and been the victim of countless political upheavals. The suppression of women still exists in certain rural areas where many families still restrict their own mothers, daughters, wives and sisters from participation in normal day to day activities and force them to abstain from any kind of public life. Their existence is still confined to the four walls of their home. Even today women are still forced into marriages; in many cases the bride is underage. Girls are still being denied a basic education with many schools for girls being razed to the ground.
These endless barriers to the development and progression of women and the absence of basic rights seem to be more a function of the particular dynamics of a traditional patriarchal society than the teachings of Islam, the Taliban rule in Afghanistan being a prime example. In other words, they are manmade and not a divine commandment. Sadly even today, this is the case not just in Afghanistan but in many other societies as well.
Religion, invariably, has been used to propagate dogma and bigotry. Distorting the teachings of Islam for personal gain and political advancement seems a rather cowardly act and sacrilegious to say the least. Apart from the gross injustice borne by women under such “fundamentalist beliefs” many of the more enlightened moderate Muslims around the world are subjected to prejudices that are partly fuelled by these acts of barbarism in the name of Islam. I will leave you with a translation from a quote in the Quran [3:195], Their Lord responded to them "I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you MALE OR FEMALE, YOU ARE EQUAL TO ONE ANOTHER..."
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