Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Freedom of speech ...but for your homes first!

There is this television channel that keeps promoting negative propaganda about women and generally the journalists from that network that has alot of viewership are rather critics than journalists and usually they talk more than the people they interview, so I stay away from them most of the time. 

This time the head of the television network found a very good friend of mine and made him request me for an interview. I couldnt say No and agreed to meet the crew in my office around 9 am, Tuesday today. 

As I got to the office from the snowy roads and crazy Kabul traffic, my colleague came that a group of cameramen, journalists are outside and say they have an interview with you. I remembered my promise and with lots of hesitation, called them inside. Next, were around 5 young men, three of them camera men and technical staff and two were apparently the anchors who wanted to host this question time. I welcomed them all and offered them a glass of green tea as they prepared their camera for the interview. They looked around the wall and kept asking questions about the pictures that were hanging on the wall but I reminded that that I only have 15 minutes for the interview and they should better hurry up to prepare their camera. 

The interview began and I saw this young journalist that I usually admire when I see him on television, turning red faced and the first question is " why do you support women and girls who humiliate their fathers and families and run away" and before I open my mouth to respond he gets more furious and goes on ..." and then I know that you belong to a family that comes from a very traditional pashtoon area and still you do this..." it feels as if this guy has found the first and last opportunity to encounter his hardest enemy on the earth and he wouldnt lose this opportunity. I laughed at first and then said if you came to interview me then shouldn't I get a chance to speak?  The journalist got embarrassed and became silent for a while and my response was....

" Today you are able to question me because this state, the laws and the Constitution gave you an opportunity that you call freedom of speech and freedom of media. If this right is taken away from you, how would you react? Or even worse. If not only right to freedom of speech is taken away but also you get severely punished for speaking up ...then what you do? you either become the most subdued and silent or tun into a knight and fight back....then why would you blame a woman and girl who does the same that you would do if you were in her situation...." 

there is complete silence. But the cameraman leaves his camera and gets as red faced as the previous young man and yells at me..." Isnt it you Western activists that are promoting immoral acts by supporting and protecting such women who run away from homes because they want to turn into prostitutes...." and I continued. 

" In 2003, over hundreds of women and girls were deported from Iran while their families were left there. These women had no place to go because they came to Afghanistan after 10 -20 years and had forgotten the language even. There was no place to keep them so they stayed in the Azaadi Bagh in Hirat and after back and forth, the national and international stakeholders agreed to start the safe houses because these women could've been either raped, killed, kidnapped, smuggled on the streets. That is how the concept of safe housing for women at risk came into work in Afghanistan. My 11 year of experience inside Afghanistan dealing with issues of violence against women indicates that over 95 % of run away cases has to do with the domestic violence, forced marriage, forced prostitution , incest and preventing women from education and other opportunities. We have women who run away from Zabul because her father in law kept raping her for years and the husband never realized. We have girls who have run away from home because the father kept forcing her to sleep with his friends and earned money. We have women who run away because she was given into marriage as the 5th wife of a 65 year old Mullah who had given loans to her father. We have girls who have run away because the father filmed them while they were taking shower.....these and many more are the reasons that women and girls run away from homes....they dont want to turn into prostitutes that is why they run away...." 

As I turned silent the anchor seemed not convinced but angrier because he knew that I am right but being in a culture of denial and patriarchy he has to prove that he's right. He looks at the cameraman and others and thanked me ....and stood up. I asked them to have their tea and then go and he told me " we will become namak-haram if we drink or eat in your office..." and left.