It’s not an easy task being a feminist, and it’s even more difficult to be a man when pushing for womens’ rights. Some would say it’s actually down-right impossible to be a feminist in Afghanistan, and really, how about being a Afghan male who’s pushing for women’s rights? I would bet that most of you would say it never happens, but you would be wrong.
“Part of the problem in Afghanistan is that most women think like men,” said Kabul university student Ferdous Samim, “I don’t have a sister, but I’m sure if I did, and she tried to go outside the house, my mother would be asking where she was going, what she was doing, why she was going out.”
Samim is a member of the male advocacy wing of activist group YoungWomen4Change, and he, along with a small but critical group of male activists, is trying to help Afghan women fight for more national rights to, hopefully, gain a better life.
Unlike other more developed countries, this is not an easy or small task. In parts of the Middle East, women have little to no rights. Even something as simple as walking to the corner store alone is not permitted. Samim says that in the next two decades, he hopes that women should be able to walk in Afghanistan’s streets and markets without experiencing the customary harassment. The sad facts of the Middle East include forced marriage, the idea that rape victims are jailed for committing “forced adultery” … The list goes on and on. Also, woman is more likely to die in childbirth in Afghanistan than anywhere else on earth. This last fact is astounding to me. Forget heading to the market for some fruits and vegetables – women are not even permitted to give birth in hospitals. They must be at home with a midwife, out of the public eye.
One of the main problems is that the men in power are not keen to listen to female activists, so men have played a very important role in keeping the anti-woman movement continuing forward. Ahmad Nader Nadery, who is commissioner of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, says that not all hope is lost:
“Once we open the door to the mullahs, we engage them in discussion, we break the ice,then our female trainers come and they also speak. But we start first.”
The idea is that men make the first move and get the people in power’s minds open to listen and then send the women in.
Other looming issues in Afghanistan is that the people are still recovering from the strict ruling under the Taliban. The Taliban had control from 1996-2001, and they marginalized women even further, stripping them of the right to work, study, or move freely within their communities. A practice known as “baad” is when women are given in marriage to settle disputes, which can apparently lead to dangerous and abusive relationships, yet it’s just another illustration of the current problem: men are not considering the impact that their decisions have on their fellow woman.
With regard to families, the abuse that takes place is also hidden because these units are “closed” Nadery explains:
“Families are very closed. Once a woman enters another family, her story will never get out. Most of those elders, those decision makers, don’t know the suffering she goes through.”
Yet hHow can they be expected to understand or make a change if they don’t know? It’s a whole other set of problems for the region.
In addition to his previous comments, Nadery claims that the AIHRC works with elders, runs workshops, and produces documentaries and dramas to illustrate how damaging “baad” and other abusive traditions can be, and the men they target are often shocked by what they learn. However, it still is not easy to change their minds. Nadery, who credits his feminism to being in a family of strong women says, “It is a long process of work with them.” Luckily there are men like Nadery and Samim who are up to the challenge.