Monday, August 31, 2009

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan

The turnout of women voters in the elections was miserable. That's not a bug but a feature, of course:

Although no official turnout figures are available and the election results are not yet final, election monitoring groups and political activists from Taliban-plagued provinces report that in dozens of insecure districts, almost no women voted. Nationwide, they say, women's participation was much lower than in either the 2004 presidential or 2005 parliamentary elections.

The sense of eroding political rights for women did not begin with this election. In the past several years, Taliban attacks on prominent women have sent a powerful message to others who dreamed of entering public life. In the southern province of Kandahar alone, a female legislator, a women's affairs official and a female prosecutor were gunned down by terrorists. Others have received constant threats, travel with armed guards or rarely visit their constituencies.


"Things are reverting, and it's because of a mix of insecurity, economy and culture," said Soraya Sobrang, a physician and member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "For a few years when security was better, women could participate in public life and the new constitution gave them political rights. But then the attacks started, and people were warned not to send their daughters to school, not to send their wives to work. All their new rights came under threat, and nothing really changed in their lives."

Now, Sobrang said, many Afghan women have lost hope.

"We have lost a lot of the ground we made. Women still face forced marriages, still work in the fields, still depend on men who beat them every day," said Sobrang, who voted on Aug. 20 in a very short line of nervous, unsmiling women. "We can give a card to a woman and tell her to vote, but that does not protect her from danger, and it does not give her any real rights at all."

The losing of hope is a feature, too, of course, because apathetic women are easier to keep at home or working the fields. Neither are they especially eager to rise up and demand their rights. So it goes.

I wish I had something more optimistic to write on this topic. But as long as Taliban values reign in Afghanistan, women there are going to have rights at most equivalent to those kind people here give to their dogs: the right to go out but only when accompanied and so on.