Thursday, November 02, 2006

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan and Popetown

Afghan women don't have it easy:

Womankind Worldwide found violence against women is still endemic - and the number of women setting fire to themselves because they cannot bear their lives is rising dramatically.

The iconic images of women throwing off their burqas after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 were always a fiction. Except among a small elite in Kabul, the overwhelming majority of women in Afghanistan are still forced to cover their entire bodies and faces.

The report's researchers found that very little has changed. Between 60 and 80 per cent of all marriages in Afghanistan are forced. As many as 57 per cent of girls are married off below the age of 16, some as young as six. Because of the custom of paying a bride price, marriage is essentially a financial transaction, and girls a commodity.

The custom of baad, when girls and women are exchanged to settle debts and disputes, is still widely practised. The women are not treated as proper wives, but in effect are slave workers for their husbands.

Honour killing is also still widespread. Women are killed for dishonouring their families through "crimes" such as even being seen associating with a man. A family member kills the woman.

Even women who have been raped cannot report the crime because they risk being prosecuted for having sex outside marriage.

The Taliban were vilified for denying girls education, but even now only 19 per cent of Afghan schools are for girls and only 5 per cent of girls of secondary school age are enrolled.

The societal norms in Afghanistan give women very little value and no amount of feel-fair legislation forced from the outside is going to change the lives of women until the valuation of women as human beings rises. Whether it is as bad as this report states all over or not, feminist change is obviously very much needed.

And so it is with the Pope's media:

An unholy row has broken out at the Pope's television station, with accusations flying that it paid derisory salaries, imposed demeaning conditions, victimised women employees - and even tried to hold a staff meeting to find out if some were virgins.

The director of Telepace (Peace TV), Monsignor Guido Todeschini, is to appear before the council of the Italian journalists' professional body in the next few days to answer claims by employees and the journalists' union. Union representatives will be seeking to find out if he has fulfilled earlier undertakings, given in February, not to monitor employees' telephone calls and to end the practice of requiring journalists to stamp a card at the start and end of work.

The newspaper La Stampa reported yesterday that managers had once called a meeting to discuss the sex lives of its women journalists and establish whether they were virgins. A former employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Guardian the initiative dated back "six or seven years" and was abandoned following an outcry by staff.

The source said women journalists working full-time were kept on part-time contracts with take-home pay of less than £11,000 a year. No one at Telepace was available for comment.

I want to write something smart about religion and women's roles here, because religion is one of the main pillars used to justify status quo. But nothing very smart comes to my mind.