Afghanistan has many cultural issues that we have to change so women can have equal opportunities with men. For example, women are not expected to travel alone in a foreign country without a muharam—a male guardian. On top of that, most Afghan women are not familiar with sharing their ideas when they do get the opportunity to go abroad to conferences.
This goes back to long years of war as well as discrimination toward women. Most Afghan men do not respect a woman’s viewpoint and place no value on their ideas because they think men know more, regardless of education. Even educated Afghan women have difficulty presenting their ideas.
We have to struggle to show we are equal. The first time I was invited to attend a leadership workshop in India, it took me a week to decide whether to go, but when I got there, I found out many things. There were some Afghan men there with bright minds, but most of them would not talk to me or the other women because they didn’t think women should be there. But I learned how to participate in discussions and to state my ideas, and I gained respect for others’ ideas.
Now I don’t care if men say I am only a woman because I learned how to point out the weak points in their arguments and change their stubborn minds.
For example, most Afghan men claim the Quran says women should stay home and care for their husband and children. When I attended a gender meeting at Kabul University held by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a man brought up this topic. He said it was stated in the Quran that women must stay home and take care of household chores and the children.
This disturbed me so I asked him, “Can you tell me on which page and in which verses of the Quran it is written?” He made some excuses and then he said, “I read it, but now I don’t remember the exact verses.”
I told him that the Quran states that men and women have equal rights and that the Afghanistan Constitution is based on Islamic values and the Quran.
In Article 22 of the New Constitution, it is stated:
Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, men and women, have equal rights and duties before the law.
I asked him how we can expect development in our country if all the women stay at home. I said, “How can equal rights mean the women stay home? If a woman is a widow with no support who is going to help her if she stays home? Do you want your daughter to get a good education or to stay at home and do household chores alone?” I explained to him that men and women are two wings of a bird: if one wing flies and the other stays home, how is it possible for the bird to fly?
In Article 23 our constitution also states:
Life is the gift of God as well as the natural right of human beings. No one shall be deprived of this except by legal provision.
This man was surprised! At the end of the training, he came over to me and tried to explain that he didn’t mean women should stay home but he meant that it is “better” for women to stay home and do household chores and that women should consider the Islamic values of each thing. He said if women go outside to work, they will be put together with men, and that is wrong from the Islamic point of view.
If women stay home and we have no women doctors, how will your wife be treated? Will she die during childbirth because you won’t let her be treated by a male doctor? He did not answer.
I think since women have experienced long years of war and are always criticized by men, we need more time to get a better balance between men and women, starting with more freedom for women. As our constitution points out, we have equal rights but we need equal freedom.
In Article 24 of the Constitution it is stated:
The state shall respect and protect liberty as well as human dignity.
Liberty is supposed to be a natural right of human beings. There are limits regarding the public interest that regulate freedom, but liberty and human dignity are inviolable.
Photo thanks to genderconcerns.org