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The Rights of Women and Children Under Taliban Law
By Kathryn Seifert   

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What is the war in Afghanistan about? Is the rights of women to not be abused under the rule of Taliban? Oil and emeralds? Religion? All of the above? Are they worth fighting for?

 

There was an increase in injury and deaths among afghan women and children in the first 6 months of 2010, when compared to the first 6 months of 2009.  Some fear a further escalation of violence toward women and children if the Taliban is included in a coalition government. In Time magazine (vol. 176, No. 6 , 2010) the cover article, Betrayed, discusses fears that Afghan women have about Taliban beliefs and practices returning in an integrated government which includes them. The example given is Bibi Aisha, an 18 year old , who had her nose and ears sliced off because of orders of the Taliban leadership.   Bibi ran away from abusive in-laws who beat her and made her sleep in the barn. This was her punishment and she was left to die, but survived to tell her story.   She was taken to a US military medical unit because the local Afghan hospital would not treat her. From there she was taken to a shelter created and supported by a US organization, Women for Afghan Women. It has now been reported that she will come to the US for reconstructive surgery. Additionally, Time reported that the religious council of Taliban influenced Herat province issued an edict in May forbidding women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.   
 Taliban law forbids the education or employment of women or examination by a male doctor without the presence of a close male relative.  Since women were teachers and nurses, these professions have practically disappeared in parts of Afghanistan.  This has caused the physical, mental, and intellectual health of women under Taliban rule to deteriorate. Burqas became required clothing under Taliban rule. A burqa covers the entire body of a woman in tent like fashion, with only a small window with which to see. Women not wearing burqas or unaccompanied by a male relative outside the home were beaten in public with sticks. Women, by law, were only allowed to read the Qur’an and windows must be blackened so no one could see into houses. We now have in the news a woman who was to be stoned to death for adultery in Iran. This is also a Taliban law.  With international publicity, the stoning has been suspended, but can be reinstated at any time. We see from this that open international dialogue can have an effect.
On the positive side, female talk Show host, Mozhdah Jamalzadah, is an example of how things are changing in Afghanistan. She has her own TV show and fears she may lose it if the Taliban are included in a coalition government.  The constitution of Afghanistan now guarantees equal rights for women and it is said that this is non-negotiable. However, the constitution also cannot contradict Islamic law (Shari’a) which is yet to be defined in the constitution. The Taliban has the most restrictive interpretation of Islamic law.  There are fears that with sufficient votes, the laws and practices will return to Taliban restrictions when the US leaves Afghanistan and the Taliban joins the Coalition government.
Women for Afghan Women (WFAW) have shelters in Afghanistan for abused women. The Taliban wants them declared as brothels and eliminated.  They have also burned down girls schools. WFAW have counseling centers to help end violence against women. Their fate is in questionable hands if the US removes troops from Afghanistan. There are 15 million women in Afghanistan. Some have already started wearing burqas again, fearing the influence of the Taliban on a coalition government when US troops leave Afghanistan.
So, are the difficulties in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, at least in part, about women and children’s rights?    If they are, does this represent larger moral and psychological issues? Is it more like Nazism, Apartheid, slavery, or any other violence against a single group?   Slavery of one group by another cannot be allowed. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton, 1887).  As was seen in the Zimbardo Prison Experiment,    one group having absolute power over another and thinking of them in derogatory terms leads even “normal” people to become extremely cruel toward the “undervalued” group. We also know that when a group with cruel beliefs about another group, as in Rwanda, is isolated and does not have the oversight of a larger society or organization, there is the risk of abuse of power and extreme violence.
The psychology research is clear that being exposed to violence against women in the home can contribute to children growing up to be heartlessly and criminally violent as adults. It appears from news reports that the Taliban, as a sub-culture, is cruel and demeaning toward women.    It would be logical that a societal sub-culture, such as the Taliban, would raise children that are violent toward others. We cannot stop terrorism until we stop cruelty toward women in the Middle East.
How does a man grow up to believe that it is OK to be violent against women and children?  He grows up in a home or culture where the common belief is that it is normal and acceptable behavior.  When exposed to the larger world, they find that not everyone believes that it is acceptable behavior.  However, giving up power is very difficult to do and they would rather "fight than switch."
The role of oil, the opium trade, and emeralds in the conflicts in Afghanistan and other places in the Middle East cannot be ignored. Whoever controls the country controls the resources. People are competing for resources in a land that has rich deposits of oil, emeralds, etc.  But to create an infrastructure that can benefit from the natural resources means cooperating with Westerners who do not accept their beliefs in cruelty toward women and children.  Therefore, we have an impasse.
So, the conflicts are about power, ideology, resources and who controls them. Nothing new there. Young Taliban recruits are told that if they allow women to be educated and have freedom, the Afghan men will lose their power and have to share resources worth millions.  My mother always said, "She who cuts the cake gets the last piece, so cut it fairly."  Therefore,to keep their position of control depends on the control of women by any means necessary. By the way, TV and radio are also banned so no one gets new ideas.  This article would never be seen in Afghanistan.
The question is, ”What do we want to do about it?”    Did Slavery, Apartheid, or Nazism end without violence? How far do we go to end a cruel sub-culture that enslaves part of its group (women)? I am not advocating for ongoing war forever, but to put the conversation openly on the table. I am advocating for calling cruelty what it is, unacceptable. If cruelty and enslavement of women is culturally acceptable by one group, the larger society must say, “No, this is not acceptable.” Some are afraid to say so because it is presented as part of a religion and it is politically incorrect to criticize someone’s religion. What would have happened if everyone was silent about the inappropriateness of slavery? We would still have slavery. We must have the necessary conversations with everything out in the open. This article is a contribution to the dialogue. There may be positive or negative feedback. Either will generate discussion. Cruelty can only exist in secrecy. Open discussion is what is needed. 
 

 



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