Monday, December 31, 2007


By Wazhma Frogh
December 2007

Daily we hear about the millions of dollars that are poured into different development programs to support the women of Afghanistan and yet little improvement in the lives of women can be seen. The country has the second highest mortality rate in the world; 80% of women and girls are subject to severe domestic violence; more than 85% of all marriages are forced and many of these “brides” are in their early childhood, this is true in the urban areas as well; regardless of the government’s stated commitment towards equality in the Constitution, the Afghanistan Compact and the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, there is only one female minister among 27 ministries, only 12% of all civil servants are women and those few are in the secretariat, support positions and daily wage earners and the percentage of female staff in other government agencies is also minimal. Afghanistan ratified CEDAW but a mere 1% of domestic violence cases were reported in 2006. Thirty nine thousand (39,000) foreign troops are present in the country but they have not managed to secure schools for girls in most rural areas. In spite of millions of dollars for women’s rights advocacy projects, girls are still given in exchange for a fighting dog or to settle disputes between families. But to add insult to injury, the government does not appear to be concerned about these and many more issues, which, if I continue writing about them, will go beyond my reader’s patience. So, what is wrong? Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say what happened to the “right track for women”? I do not mean to imply that there have been no effective efforts whatsoever to improve the situation of women, but the few successes have been sporadic and many more are superficial at best. To understand the dilemma more clearly, I would like to sketch the road map of Afghan women from 2001 to the present.
In 2001, when the US “liberated” Afghanistan from the Taliban, the world rejoiced that Afghan women would be liberated. But I am wondering what it really meant for the women of my country. Surely, we don’t mean that by unveiling them we liberated them, or do we? That is an overly simplistic position to take on a very complex situation. The conditions under which women existed in September 2001 were not created solely by the Taliban government, although they may have worsened under their regime, to understand the current gender disparities it is necessary to look at the entire history of the area that is now called Afghanistan.
The concept of “GENDER” officially entered into the Afghan educated elite circle very soon after the “fall” of the Taliban from the central government along with the influx of international assistance. The western developed concept of gender equality and equity, which has been exported to underdeveloped countries like Afghanistan, failed to take into consideration the brute reality of the conditions in this country. The issues and challenges that the women of Afghanistan face on a daily basis, and have faced for centuries, are not only the “religious and cultural restrictions” that are so graphically detailed in donor reports at end of each project that fails to attain its goal. It is not to say that the concept was flawed, rather that its implementation was flawed. To simply cut and paste the western concept and methodology on Afghanistan did, in my humble opinion, more harm than good. Little to no thought was given to the level of understanding or comprehension of the recipients of the “assistance”, and a lack of understanding of the conditions in which women existed set the bar too high to ever be able to succeed. Without understanding the concepts, how they work, how they work in other similar countries and contexts the overwhelming majority of women in Afghanistan could not grasp the idea, much less move towards improving their conditions. And, in a patriarchal society such as Afghanistan, to exclude men from the efforts is courting disaster.
It was also important to understand, although this understanding has not happened as of yet, that no judicial reform can succeed if we ignore the importance of customary laws and community decision makers. Throughout the history of Afghanistan these local decision making entities, which were curtailed under the Taliban, have been the main court for every man and woman seeking help and justice. For ages, these so called tribal leaders have protected villagers and community members through contextual decision making and the people of Afghanistan, most of whom belong to the rural setting, have full trust and confidence in them and their decisions are taken as law. How, then, can an artificial and instant government, created and backed by western concepts and international conventions, “win the hearts and minds of the people”?
It was important to understand, before any gender programming began, that health projects cannot improve the health of women and children if we don’t first understand the traditional methods of treatment. The coping strategies of common villagers that were effective during the years when the central government was non existent have not even been explored. A woman that used hashish to stop bleeding for 50 years will not eagerly change that practice on the advice of a clinic that was only recently established by an international NGO and that closes its doors to the sick when there is a suicide attack. It is obvious that people will trust the Mullah and the Hakim who are always available to them and answer their questions in ways that they understand – ways that are now called “traditional and backward” by the international community.
I do not believe that any other leaders in the world have lost popularity, or life, because of their “women related policies”, but in Afghanistan many have. Women’s rights have been used as a justification to gain power and women’s rights have been used as a justification to eliminate that power. Looking at the contemporary history of Afghanistan since 1919, we see that the first king of Afghanistan, Amanullah, was sent into exile because of his radical efforts to unveil his wife and emancipate women over night. This is a perfect example of importing new development concepts from the west and attempting to implement them without thoughtful consideration of how to go about importing and implementing those ideas. But this lesson apparently remains unlearned as misguided attempts to emancipate Afghan women continue in the same vein and continue to fail miserably. The point in this historical recounting is not only the failure of rapid emancipation, but also, and perhaps more importantly given that the majority of Afghans live in the rural areas, the absence of the voice of rural Afghanistan in such programs.
“I would be a happy woman if I were accepted as a human being, even under my blue burkha. Unveiling does not give me my human rights, nor does it give my husband any justification for not beating me”. A 35 year old woman in Kabul.
More than 85% of Afghans lives in the rural areas, and yet this huge majority is generally ignored in favor of the educated urban elite when planning macro and national level empowerment programs. However, the rural communities are the ones that don’t take a back seat when it comes to the destruction of those programs and efforts. When we talk about rural Afghanistan, the principle component is the family and its dynamics; not to say that this isn’t true in the urban setting, however, in the rural areas family comes before one’s own life. By family dynamics, I mean the relationships of power that influence the social, cultural and economic perspectives of the family and these, in turn, influence communities and finally the nation as a whole. Social perspectives are the societal structures and classes that are based on wealth, political influence and clan hierarchy. Cultural perspectives deal with the norms and beliefs of individuals in a family (and in Afghanistan this means the extended family) and usually those beliefs and norms are rooted in a social/class hierarchy, power relations and economic interdependency of individuals that is then transferred to the family, the community and the nation. Economic perspectives are the income earning opportunities or potential and other family and/or community resources at the individual and community levels. Mostly, power relations at the family level are influenced by the social, cultural and economic conditions of individuals or groups of people in a community.
In every report about Afghanistan, we read that due to rigid cultural norms the women of Afghanistan have been deprived of their human rights; however, most of these reports fail to adequately explore these rigid cultural norms, and to understand that these are often not restricted only to women. On the other hand, they have failed to highlight the impact of war, instability and occupation on these so called Afghan cultural practices. As an Afghan, I can strongly argue that there is no single Afghan culture that is common across the country. These social/cultural practices vary not only in each region, but also in different villages due to the geography, the effects of the wars and the political and economic conditions. If the western region of the country is influenced by Iranian culture, the east isn’t far from the influence of the Pakistani frontier social practices. For the sake of clarity, I define cultural practices as certain activities and values that Afghan society has been practicing within its own specific territory for many years. A considerable amount of baggage is attached to these practices which have become norms and culturally acceptable practices. Family hierarchy, which deals more with the various levels of power sharing at the family level, like grandfathers’ influence on sons and sons’ influence on grandsons, are usually formed by the power relations within the family with the clan and tribe. These power relations are based on the economic status or access that one has in a family or clan and this comes from land ownership or other types of income generation. Sometimes, having social influence at the community level also earns an individual a great deal of power and this puts him in the position of making most of the community decisions. Their decisions are respected because of the power they have gained through their position in the family/community. Belonging to a very rich, religious and educated family and/or clan also brings individuals a great deal of power that they wield within the family and the community.
The failure of women’s empowerment initiatives doesn’t rest solely with the complex sociopolitical setting of Afghanistan. From the outset, the entire process has lacked consistency, commitment and accountability. The establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs provided optimism for women’s participation, and yet we cannot ignore the fact that it is isolated and lacks authority. It is obvious that one woman in a cabinet of 27 ministries will not be heard and especially if the mindset of the people around her are not on board with her agenda for women’s empowerment. The presence of too many international and national NGOs and contractors with their “gender policies” more often than not work in isolation and fail to cooperate and communicate among themselves, much less with the government. Many women’s organizations believe that tailor/seamstress projects that teach women skills they already know as part of their traditional gender roles and give them a sewing machine at the end of the project empower the women of Afghanistan. Or that bag making or carpet weaving projects empower the women whereas they actually make them slave laborers. Indeed, the concept of empowerment has been lost in the complexity of Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Another part of this interesting story is the lack of commitment to and belief in women’s rights and empowerment. Those NGO directors and workers who pay “lip service” to the women’s empowerment agenda do not actually believe in it and their daily lives are in complete contrast to their proclamations during working hours, which are aimed at obtaining more international financial assistance. With the 85% illiteracy in the country, advocacy campaigns have sweet and sour messages spiced with fashionable “in” words that condemn the increased violence against women – how many people will be able to read these messages? And of those few that can read them, how many will be able to understand, to conceptualize, the information provided therein? Furthermore, how will these fancy words change the lives of women that give birth in barnes along with the animals in Daikundi and other remote villages? To take the issue further, how will these advocacy campaigns ever succeed when there is no effective government to advocate to?
“ if women were beaten once in a week in early years, now by the presence of women’s rights organizations and human rights activists they are beaten twice a week in this village” a man in Faryab Province.
In conclusion, I would like to recommend that, if the international community is indeed serious about women’s empowerment in the development of Afghanistan, then they must put their words into strategic actions with strong accountability mechanisms. It is imperative that they first understand the complex dynamics of this country and that they do this by going beyond the urban areas and getting the input of all Afghans and not just the educated urban elite. Aid isn’t just the provision of financial assistance, it is building capacity in a manner that is on par with the level of understanding and comprehension of the beneficiaries; it is careful and thorough monitoring of the implementation of the projects to ensure accountability; it is transparency in implementing projects and grant making; it is setting an example of a better more honest and effective way of doing things, rather than the opposite. To improve the current situation of women in this country, every effort should be made to strengthen education and health services for women and girls and to build their awareness of human rights as once a woman is educated and healthy, the whole community is educated, healthy and understands the rights of every human being. A balanced approach towards development brings equity and social justice, and that should be the core of the development concept in any country in the world, as no state would ever want its citizens to be isolated and insensitive towards each other.
If you want to empower the women of Afghanistan, empower the communities because the women of Afghanistan don’t live in a vacuum, their lives and decisions are intertwined with the beliefs and attitudes of their male counterparts in the family and society. If you condemn violence against women, then also highlight the curses and beatings that a son receives for not earning enough for bread as he begs barefoot on a cold winter day with shoes on his feet.
A history of women in Afghanistan: Lessons learned for the future or yesterday and tomorrow: by Huma Ahmad Ghosh. May 2003
Family Dynamics and State Politics in Afghanistan; a paper by Political Science Students at the American University of Afghanistan. Summer 2007
UNIFEM’s 2007 Report on Violence Against Women in Afghanistan

Politics of Religion

By Wazhma Frogh,
July 2007
Our global village is plagued with perpetual clash of humanity and one humanity is facing millions of threats in most parts of this village. Many of the countries and even regions are in constant crisis and conflict for various political, religious and economical power struggles. We usually hear that “its all political game” that has created tension and chaos among these countries, but the painful part of this political game is that religion too has been mixed in politics for power. I understand that most of us reading this will not like to hear that we are all somehow part of this religious politics, but in the coming paragraphs I am going to prove this hypothesis as a matter of fact.

In parts of the world, where countries state politics are rooted in religious beliefs, there are growing versions of interpretations by political leaders to get to power. Particularly, countries where majority of population are Muslims and the country is called “Islamic Republic of XX”, state politics are also based on Islamic Sharia or Islamic jurisprudence. But the main question is whether we have a common and most of all “true” interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence in these countries or if needed we “interpret” Islam as per our own subjectivity or the biased objectivity. But before religion becomes part of politics, it’s important to understand how it evolves at various levels of institutions like family, community and societal.

Growing up in Islamic environments, I have always heard that Islam is an original religion and has been continuously being implemented and acted upon by Muslims since the times of Prophet (P.B.U.H) with no additions or omissions. But why is it that Muslims enforce the Islamic laws on arbitrary basis which are different for themselves and for others. Muslims condemn killing and brutal inhumane acts against any human beings but they kill and exterminate another human being because another human being relates to another sect of Shia or Sunni or any other sect forgetting that Islam is religion of unity and hasn’t been disaggregated as Shia’s Islam or Sunni’s Islam.

I am sure that some of us would say that actually it’s other political movements that manipulate Muslims against each other and there are great games behind dividing Muslims, but my question is again that is it that we are weak in our faith in Islam? Is it that we are so weak in our faith that we are more susceptible to manipulation and games and go against our beliefs? Or Are we sure that we actually believe our beliefs? My main argument in this last question is that since for most of us religion has been part of the patriarchal culture, we haven’t been able to explore religion in relation to our firm beliefs. I mean that religion has come to us but we haven’t gone to religion. One day I asked my mother that how do we know that our children are Muslims and understand their religion because I haven’t seen us teaching our generations about the religion. She said actually Islam gets to our children through parenthood blood and even when a child is newly born we deliver a prayer anthem (Azaan) to his/her ears and that way we are sure that our child is a Muslim and will behave and comply with Islamic laws.

We can also argue that because we live in Islamic society so our socialization process is fully Islamic and our children learn to be “good Muslims”, however, I would again question that if our society interprets religion quiet differently for different purposes, and establish segregation between Shia and Sunni and other sects, then are we sure that our children are in the right track of Islamic socialization? It’s not only segregation of Shia and Sunni but actually a lot more than that. We are compromising humanity for self interest, we believe that our religion actually commands us to get education but do not let our daughters to get education, we believe that usage of any intoxication is not allowed in Islam but we grow poppy in our lands. We believe that only superior to Allah is the pious of us but we usually make women inferior that men and give Islamic justifications. I have heard from many Islamic scholars that Quran Says” Al Rijal Qawamun alanisa” which according to them means men are superior to women. But we ignore the contextual reasons for this verse and the actual meaning of “ Qawamun” that is related to financial responsibility and financial guardianship of men for their families but we interpret this verse for the social interaction with women and say that women are inferior than women because Quran says so.

As the world is witness of the growing conflict and crisis in many parts of the world and one of the main causes is that religious groups want to rule the countries as per their own interpretations of religion. In such circumstances, I think in such critical conditions, the governments and the United Nations need to come up with solutions to decrease the tensions and crisis in these parts of the world. One way would be for states to define governance and state building efforts as per a common definition of justice and efficiency for people. By a common definition of justice I mean a “justice system which can guarantee human rights as a global need rather than being limited to one religion”. Here comes the question of how to form a common definition of justice in a country? National commissions of people representatives and great assemblies of people can be sources to come up with such a definition, which is mainly based on people’s religious and traditional values but by common I mean that all kinds of religious values of all kinds of people should be considered within a constitution of a country.

When I talk about social justice for people, I mean that all people with different religious beliefs should be treated same within a legal framework of justice in a country. This means that the legal framework of a country should be able to address the justice needs of all religions within their national justice unitary systems. It is important to have the justice system based on a national consensus on human rights and social justice because if that system is based on a single religion, not only that other religions can not be treated equally and fair but also there is a lot of different interpretations of religion by different scholars and clerics as per their own values and beliefs. Most often people’s religious beliefs are mixed with their traditional values and therefore their judgments and perceptions of justice are not purely religious and can not be just to other people who do not belong to their circle.

It has also been seen that justice systems in a country that has limited its laws and regulations to one religion, as arbitrary justice which means case by case dealing of justice as per people’s religious beliefs. Afghanistan saw a recent example of such arbitrary justice, with governments dealing with a convert of religion who was put to capital punishment. In contrast, when war lords proposed their amnesty bill that was favoring their bale in spite of killing innocent people during 1992 civil war and damaging the national interest but it was considered religious because it means for peace and reconciliation. Although the religion does not support such mentality, but since this was some powerful group’s interpretations of religion, it was approved by the government justice system as well so they looked at the process of reconciliation without analyzing its massacre of human rights.

At the same time, it is important for the governments to have a governance system that all religions can be practiced freely and without any barriers, and the government should be also having national programs on providing educational and awareness raising programs for people to know their religion rather than interpreting as per their traditional values. If the governments are not able to adapt their governance system freely for all religions and not favoring one religion, it is likely that various opposition groups will be formed against the government who are the victim or want to rule a country as per their own values.

We need to learn that religion is a spiritual need and should not have political dimensions and we can only secure humanity if we nurture our religion spiritually not through our political ambitions.


By Wazhma Frogh,
Life is like an ocean and every sorrow and every happiness is sunk in this ocean. But if life gets along with the loved one’s and you depart, these moments sink in this ocean but memories can never die.
Simran a 17 year- old girl, who is a college student of first year, lives away from every one. Every one used to gather with each other but Simran with her Urdu book is used to sit under the pine tree. Then she starts thinking about her father and his whine bottle that till when she will suffer his fathers beats for her fee.Whenever she asked her father for her fee, he used to hit her with his bottle on her head.Everyone called her bird nest because she sat in a place and was lost in her thoughts.She was beautiful enough but she never showed her beauty up, because she was never let to know she is beautiful, in fact, she was tighten up in Omar Hyatt ‘s (her father) anger and she couldn’t even think of getting out of it.Since her mother died she was entirely obsessed by a complex of being alone and poor.
Three years ago her mother died by Cancer. When she was 14 years old, she still remembers that her father used to come late at night anxious in whine then he beat her mother by any chance and Simran stared at those heart rendering moments and shed tears but without voice.Simran was thinking and coming towards the library and she heard a crying voice that took her away from all her thoughts. She wanted to know that why Farah is crying?Farah Sultan was daughter of Sultan Ahmad, a millionaire of the town but Farah said that the only thing that Sultan Ahmad is concerned about is money. Sympathetically Simran put her hand on Farah’s shoulder and asked that why are you crying?
Farah said: who are you and what are you asking for? Go and think about yourself.Simran stood hopelessly and tears made a chain of pearls in her eyes, she went two steps forward but Farah called her, Simran!Simran turned her face and glanced to Farah, she saw a friend’s face and a real friendship glanced of Farah’s face. Farah said; will you be my friend, my best friend? Would we share our sorrows and happiness?
Farah asked all these questions breathlessly, so the chain of pearls broke down and spilt on Simran’s face and she didn’t think further. Both crying cuddled each other.Farah said: my mother died in a car accident last year and today is her death-anniversary and I don’t know my father is busy in which business meeting somewhere. Since my mother died I understand that life is very ugly but shows up its ugliness in a very beautiful way. Simran said yeah but I haven’t seen its beauty yet. When I opened my eyes into this world I lost myself in fights of my parents and since my mother died, I am struggling towards a destination in a dark, lonely way of life.
Both talking about their troubles reached to the main gate of college Farah said; its right that our destinations are different but our ways are the same and we as best friends will prove to the world that life is really beautiful all and all.Farah asked how would you go home? Simran said by bus, but Farah insisted her to go in her car so Simran couldn’t resist. The car was crossing the glorious buildings of the town and getting near to the roads smelled of whine, poverty, fear, and hopelessness. Car stopped in front of a small house made of raw bricks in a tiny street. Farah understood how shameful Simran felt but Farah said nothing and closed the door of her car after Simran got down. Simran’s father saw her coming out of a glorious car and he was ready as usual to torture her.
When Simran opened the door she found Omar Hyatt as a mountain of sorrow in front of her. Omar Hyatt asked her toughly: who was she? Simran answered: my friend! and entered the house. This word (my friend) surprised Omar Hyatt that he couldn’t say anything more. Yes, it was not possible that Simran has got a friend.Day by day Simran and Farah’s friendship got depth and changed in to love why? Is it very strange? Love is not a matter that it should be with the opposite sex.You can love anyone anywhere. Love is a color that paints everyone in its own color. Maybe you also loved someone?As the time passed, Omar Hyatt felt sorry for his behavior because he understood that his daughter was like a sparkling candle that can lighten up the world with it’s brightness, she’s the girl that ambitious to build her dream house in this world.Farah and Simran did their MA together. But now Simran doesn’t need to suffer her father’s cruelty because she is working (part time) for a newspaper. She writes the stories that touch the heart of every human being.Farah joined Engineering and after 4 years she became an architect. She designs buildings for many outstanding companies.Farah’s love and friendship furnished Simran’s life. Simran got the year’s Nobel award for her hearth robbing tales. Farah was chosen as the best architect of the year.Sultan Ahmad had heard of Farah shah a lot and he wanted his new project site to be designed by her. After an appointment when he got to Farah’s office, he came to know that Farah shah was his daughter whom he taught was a mother’s kid. Farah was just like a hidden diamond and Simran’s friendship curved it lighter and brighterFarah had to go to America for an official work, she didn’t want to go but Simran insisted her to go.
She came after 10 years back to Pakistan. During this gap they had contact with each other but Farah didn’t call her for a month she wanted to give Simran surprise of her coming.When she arrived, first she went to Simran’s house .She knocked the door and after a while Omer Hyatt opened the door .As he saw Farah, he started to cry like he was burning in fire of regret. Farah thought maybe he is crying for his cruelties to Simran and he is feeling sorry, so she didn’t say anything .She asked about Simran and he said lets go to meet her .He made Farah to sit in the car and he started driving.After a long drive they reached to a graveyard and the car stopped. Farah was trembling of fear she didn’t know where she was.For a while she was just like a living death body standing in front of the graves.Farah found herself in front of a grave that had a green flag hanged on and written “Friendship never ends” Farah shouted once and lost herself in her own voice.Then she came to know that Simran whose one smile was worthy as her life, had cancer!!! An incurable disease!
Farah shah built a free cancer hospital by name of Simran.Now Farah is one of the most popular and successful architects, she says; “I have reached to the peak of victory and I feel the fragrance of Simran’s love and friendship in my success”Farah is living alone and she says she can spend her life in shadow of Simran’s memories.


by Wazhma Frogh

I had a long research of the centers where addicted of drugs got treatment, spoke with addicted victims and studied many addiction cases of women, finally I came out with the conclusions that 55% of the women addicted cases are rooted in gender violence. This was the gender based violence which provoked women to go on the way of using drugs.
I had a visit to an orphanage centers where addicted women were getting treatment, during my visit I noticed a very young women getting treatment there and her being young captured my attention, there for I asked her some questions and she told me her story:
I was 14 years old when Taliban took over the power in Afghanistan. We were living in a rented house with my father, my mother, and my elder brother. One day Taliban sent a proposal for me, and my father denied. But later on when Taliban pressurized him that they will kill my brother, my father said that a girl should get married and she is a girl, for her I can’t devote the life of my son, so my father accepted that proposal and married me to a Talib who was an addict of heroin. Then my family also escaped to Pakistan and left me alone with the curses I had with my husband. There were some 4 other young women in my husband’s house but he never introduced them to me, I didn’t know why they were in this house.
One early morning I heard the voices of these women and when I went to their room, I saw that my husband was beating them with a iron built , after he beat them heavily , he left the room. Meanwhile I saw that these women are breathing something, which I have never seen, I asked them what is this “they said this is a medicine of all pains, when we breath it , we forget the whole world, you can also use it but you have to pay us some money then we will give you. Since I had a lot of pains and sorrows, I thought that lets see what this is, and that was the first day I got the habit of using drugs. I never knew it was hashish. As the time swift on, I got used to it easily and I always theft the money from my husband and paid those women to give me life, for me it was just like another happy life.
After sometimes I noticed that I am pregnant and when I told my husband about it, he said I hate girls and if it is a girl, I will kill you. The fear of being killed overcame my conscience and I went to the world of drugs very deeply. When my child was born, it was a girl and my husband came to my room, and said do u remember I told you that I will kill you if it is a girl, I couldn’t tolerate and started crying. He suddenly took the pillow and pressed on the mouth of my daughter and in seconds, she went out of this world. I resisted a lot but I couldn’t since I was so weak and he beat me so much. And this was the drugs which again cured my pain and sorrow, I always heard the voice and shouts of my innocent daughter, but when I used heroin, I was relieved of every trouble I had.
When Taliban were attacked three years before, our house was bombed and all the people inside died, but I was the only survivor. Since I didn’t have drugs, so I was so desperate and furious, I went to streets for begging, and one day I was unconscious of hunger and people carried me to the hospital, which after some days I was referred to this center for treatment. At the beginning I couldn’t tolerate not using drugs but as the time passed and I got treatment, I forgot the drugs now and now I understand that if I was not a drug addicted I could have rescue my daughter, but now I have started a new life and I know life is very precious. The only complain I have is from my parents, that they left me alone because I was a girl and in Afghan society a girl is worthless.
I have come across many addiction cases that women wrapped them up with drugs, since they were suffering from a sever gender based violence. We all know that drugs usage is prohibited in Islam, our religion and also the addicted person is hatred in that society too. There fore, if we want a society cleaned up of all the drugs, we should all work towards building a peaceful and advanced society to eliminate every kind of gender based violence.

Do something!!!... A message from an 8-year old bride

By Wazhma Frogh
I want to share my insights with all the people around the world. With my growing up, I realized how women are marginalized in most countries, how they have to bear the brunt of being female and how they are considered the fairer but the weaker sex. This realization pained me always but to see little girls who should be playing with dolls pay for being born as girl hurts me the most. Being a social activist and researcher of women's issues in Afghanistan, I travel around the country to research on the condition of women and inquire their status in society. Since long women in our society have been seen as inferior human being who are born to serve men. This is true for almost everywhere and is especially true in context to Afghan culture.
Two years back, I was in a province in the southeast of Afghanistan where I met a number of women to discuss their lives and problems. All along my conversation with them I realised out how their rights are being massacred under the shadow of men's ignorance. During my visit, I also had a chance to meet an old woman who introduced me to her daughter-in-law. A child of 8 or 9 years stood in front of me and her name was Malalai*. I asked the old woman who is she? The old woman confirmed it was her daughter-in-law. I found a thin, depressed child dressed as a newly wedded bride. Her innocent but sad image still floats in front of my eyes. In some parts of Afghanistan newly wed women wear bridal clothes for a longer time after their marriage.
Controlling my heartfealt sorrow for Malalai I requested to talk to her in private. Curiously when I asked her: "Do you know you are married?" She said, "I was sold at R.s 5 Lacs to a 40-year-old man as his third wife by my father who is a preacher of the village." It was shocking to hear such words from a child. She then continued and told me that the man she is married to is of the same age as her father and when she doesnt listen to her husband, she gets beaten. Her mother-in law and other two wives also torture her claiming that if she would have been a good girl her father wouldn't have sold her. After listening to that little timid girl, I felt a deep pain in my heart and couldn't stop my tears flowing down my face. Only one thought floated through my head what was her fault? her father sold her because she is a girl and used her to save himself from poverty.
We people call ourselves human and many of us are proud to be Muslims, but please bring me a verse of our sacred and holy book, which recommends selling of 8 years daughter to avoid starvation of the family.
Malalai added by saying "I ask all the parents, if you can't feed your children, why do you bring them to this world and make them suffer without sin? I wish my parents had killed me after I was born rather than giving me such disgraceful life".
Further her words were "Please do something for us, for poor children, and save the innocent souls from such oppression. Please educate future fathers, to provide equal opportunities to their children as God has not discriminated between sons and daughters. Our religion commands believers to feed, educate and care for their children until they are adults. Please provide job opportunities to our mothers so that they can be among income earners at home and gain the right to make decisions. I also want to tell religious preachers and guides to please learn and understand for yourselves what religion says and then teach others. "
I was taken aback after listening to that child. I know it is hard to believe that a girl of that age can say such things but this is not fiction but a true story of an Afghan girl who had paid high price for being a girl.
I hereby convey her message to you all. I request everyone to support me in this cause. It is our responsibility to work together for the betterment of our children without discriminating between a girls and boys. The much talked about gender equality should be realized in each and every household so that none of the girls have to pay the price that girls of Afghanistan are paying.
* a given name by the writer

A Woman’s Day in a Man’s Year

By Wazhma Frogh
March 2007
In a bright busy day in the office, my cell phone rang constantly and after answering the phone, I got that it was a friend of mine excitingly telling me about the plans for the coming 8th March celebrations. “hey you know what the president is going to be there along with other high society officials, lets bring again those three crazy women whom we gave those tailoring machines for the project on women empowerment and we can show them as examples during the gathering that we helped women get self-reliant and empowered” if we succeed we will get the new project with more money.” I really want to do a world tour now.
I felt my heart chocked once the monologue was over. Why these women who get the chance to help some other women, deteriorate the lives of many other vulnerable women? I really feel that there is a big blunder with the word’s comprehension; do we know what does empowerment mean for a widow with five dependants? Are we really serious when we empower women by giving them tailoring machines in the rapid globalization that even garments from USA are available locally at reasonable prices? Is the 8th March another day of betraying women with “never fulfilled promises”? Again a number of elites and famous faces will gather for a Chet-chat on the ongoing fashion for the new clothes in town and we will call it 8 March, Women’s day celebrations? Let’s analyze the roots of this day! Is it the day to celebrate womanhood or the day to celebrate the human rights that are given and enjoyed by women generously? Are you sure? I do believe that a lot of struggles took place for women emancipation many years back and those hit backs resulted in a lot of achievement for women’s rights. But it doesn’t mean that all those struggles transform into fiery speeches and empty promises by women themselves even. Women activists need to be honest with their speeches in public and truly bring fundamental changes to the lives of those living with misery under ignorance about their self being. So far, a lot of people think that these activists with their speeches are the gate-keepers for women’s rights and have been the one’s that massacred women’s rights under the feet of their personal interests with different empowerment claims. If this situation continues I am sure women will also lose the chance of having ONE DAY in a Year of 365 DAYS.

We learn to discriminate: Unlearning the Gender Learning

By Wazhma Frogh
For the past decade, many development discourses have taken name from the happenings and incidents around the globe and every day we are witness of a new term describing a particular situation. Although there are reasons behind creating a discourse and then using it for self-promoting purposes, we never look into the root causes of those happenings and incidents in our surroundings. The terms as “violence against women”, “Women’s rights”, “child rights”, “gender inequality”, “discrimination against women and girls” and many more are quiet commonly used and sexy words to describe the terrible conditions of women and girls around the world particularly within the so-called third world countries.

Governments, civil society, profit and non-profit sectors, and activists are striving hard to introduce laws to prevent violence against women and children, to raise public awareness on affects of violence in the communities, doing a lot of advocacy, and lobbying for social justice social inclusion. However, we hardly look at the grass root causes of violence and discrimination against women and children in our communities, by our communities I mainly focus on patriarchal South Asian and Middle East countries. Have we ever thought that we learn to discriminate and violate rights of another human being particularly of women and girls? Have we ever thought that it is only us individuals who can strengthen social justice within our families and communities?

Violence against women and girls is not generated automatically from any community or individual, there is a systematic process of gender learning. By gender learning, I mean that we learn the expected and accepted characteristics for women and men in our communities from birth to death. We all learn how to behave and treat women and men in our society through the socialization process that takes place during the living cycle of human beings. In the process of socialization, girls and boys are given a very clear skeleton to fit themselves in those skeletons with particular characteristics in order to be socially accepted individuals. Let’s look at the family structures, we teach our daughters to play with the pink dress dolls, never go out otherwise boys will hurt you and people will laugh on us and we will lose our honor, and teach girls how to cook well so that her in laws will be happy with her. At the same time, we teach the brother of that girl in her presence that you are a man, our protector, our landlord and it is up to you how you protect the family honor, which is usually linked to women’s clothing, their education and their marriage.

I am usually amazed when my parents insist that whenever I go out I take my 12-year-old brother because I need a man to protect me in the society. It is obvious that from this age he starts to learn that he is superior to his sisters and even older sisters and he is the one that can save and protect his sisters, so he gets out of his way to protect his sisters at any cost ignoring her rights and identity.

We do not pay enough attention to the small issues during the childhood of our kids that will shape their mentality about themselves and their opposite sex for the rest of their lives. A small example is that when a boy cries, we condemn him saying” come on, you are not a girl, don’t cry like girls, it is a shame!” this is where we teach the lesson of girl’s inferiority to our sons and boys. We teach our boys that girls cry because they are weak and inferior while boys are superior and should not behave like girls. When our kids play around with each other we console them “Shame on you, you are playing with girls?” The honor and shame is usually associated with the lives of girls around us and from an early age our boys learn to be the gatekeepers of the honor and shame that is only related to girls.

We never teach our children the lesson of unity with their sisters and brothers, the lesson of respect that if your sister polishes your shoes, you should also iron her school dress to be courteous and kind to her. We need to teach our boys and sons that she is not there to serve you as a maid, she is your sister, your partner who should benefit equally and fairly from everything that you enjoy in life. We seldom remember that women and men need each other in every sphere of life and their lives are interdependent to each other, they both have different responsibilities, needs and contributions and we need to appreciate the diversity that shapes human life rather than despising the difference!

Shame on you! You are a girl!

Ms.Wazhma Frogh

This story is about a woman who is a successful mother but to be super mom she had to pay a bitter price… I met her during my struggles for advocating on gender rights.

“Pari! Shame on you! You are still playing outside! I will finally complain to your father tonight, you are such an idiot girl. Why don’t you understand that you are a girl and girls don’t play outside the house, its very shameful to a girl to play with boys outside the house!”
This was my only mother who had become so tired of my boyish behavior and playing with other boys of my age outside the house. According to my mom, I never looked and behaved like a girl since I was two years old. Therefore, you could only see cars, guns and spider man statues in our house, all brought by my father who had a very different mentality about girls from my mom. He thought that girls should be confident enough to face all the ugly faces of life.
Since childhood I had the desire to be a pilot and fly high in the sky. But I could see gulps of fear in her eyes and I started to feel that fear while playing with a neighbor’s son, Atif. That fine afternoon I was playing “catch me if you can” around our silent neighborhood that suddenly I felt tied with the steel ropes of a man’s hands. That was Atif’s father who was trying hard to touch and cuddle me wildly, I felt uncomfortable and resisted. He seemed like a wild animal that just got its prey and is restless to tear it off into pieces. I finally got relieved from his trap when Atif got there after hearing my voice shouting for help. But then his father looked at me and said,” Thank God! My daughter! That I caught you if you had fallen down this pitch; you would have harshly hurt yourself.” That was when I felt a very bitter hatred against that man or maybe at men. How mean can a human being be in hands of his wild inhumane desires?
I ran home without talking a word to Atif and looked for my mom; she was cleaning the dishes in the kitchen when I shouted! Mom where are you? I needed a shelter, a place where I could hide myself that no one look at me, the silent fear of that incident was growing inside me , although till today I never knew what did that old man wanted to do when he held me strongly in his arms? My mom gave me a warm and confident hug and looked at me worried. What happened to you dear? I was speechless but my mom knew what happened to me. She knew that after that day I will never go out and play with our neighbor’s son, she felt the pain and fear that I had in my breath and eyes. This incident happened to me when I was around 10 year’s old girl, who never thought that I am a girl and should stay home because that way I can keep my honor and dignity. This means I should sacrifice myself because of the society’s devils who are then the gate keepers of honor and dignity. That single incident massacred my courage until today that I am 40 years old. But I never got the answer to my question that why I have to change myself because there are thousands of devil’s like Atif’s father around. Is it because I am seen to be weak? Is it because I can not fight back the way a man can? If I am that weak then why am I sent to be compared with a stronger one? Can a weaker half be an equal to another half? Let’s compare nature around us, we have the moon lightening around the night and we have the sun warming the whole day. Can we say the moon is better than the sun because it lightens our dark nights? Or can we say sun is better because we would have frozen and paralyzed if there wasn’t a sun? None of them can replace another and both of them have their own errands assigned. They are signs of diversity without being superior to one another. That same theory applies to men and women, they are different but none is superior or inferior because they are not the same.
Getting back to that incident that changed my personality and my worldview about life, it made me one of the typical Asian women, got married to my parent’s choice and behaved like an upright wife for more than 15 years now. But I wish that if my mom had given me the courage to face the devil and the world with confidence, I may have not been another weaker woman of this era. The lesson that I learnt during the past thirty years of my life was that why should I devote my being and identity because society can not control their evil intentions. I shared this incident with my daughter when she was 8 and as of then have taught her to fight back and stand against brutalities that happen to a girl and changes her motions and ambitions in life, without hiding herself from the society and devoting her self being. As a 40 year old mother, I want to tell all mothers that lets not our daughters be another set of weak women.