Pushing for unanimity in women’s rights across 27 members states with some extremely varied attitudes towards women’s roles in society – whether more family focussed in Poland or entirely liberated with legalised prostitution in Germany – is extremely complex.
But the reporting of women’s rights issues in Afghanistan this weekend has made me appreciate just how united Europe is on this issue. And how important it is that we look beyond our own borders to push for the human rights of our sisters in the Middle East.
As Afghanistan’s Parliament debated ways to protect female politicians from assassination this Easter Monday, following the murder of Kandahar provincial council member Sitari Achakzai on Sunday, women attending the country’s most progressive university expressed her distaste and annoyance at the West’s ‘meddling’ in the rights of women in their country.
Women attending Kabul University told a Canadian journalist that the West should not involve itself in the country’s religious affairs. “We do not want total freedom. We want it to be limited and to be within Islam”, a young female student architect is reported as saying.
The student Hamida Hasani, aged 18, says that when faced with hunger and war issues of women’s rights pale into insignificance. ”If they [the West] faced what we have faced… they’d realise what is important here” she said. She then added, that the problem of women’s rights in Afghanistan belongs to Afghan women – no one else. I completely disagree with this young student’s sentiments.
How can the fundamental human rights of fifty per cent of the population not be important? And one woman’s suffering not be the problem of another’s? No matter how divided in culture and geography people may be, one person’s suffering is the concern of another. Women reading this article must not back off the ‘rape law’, a much reported new Shia law allowing men to have sex with their wives inspite of their wishes. Instead they must be cheered and united by that their efforts, which have resulted in the Afghan President scrapping the offending law.
Karzai bows to international calls to scrap Afghan ‘rape’ law
Women’s liberation is at the heart of every economy, every democracy, the fundamentals of human rights. Never is an issue more pressing or more in the interest of every other woman worldwide.
Frighteningly, the reportage of this story is limited as no other student could be found on the campus that was aware on the pending Shia family legislation or of Achakzai’s murder by Taliban gunmen.
Commenting on this, women’s rights campaigner Fauzia Kofi, who represents the Badakhshan constituency, said “Public awareness of any legislation before Parliament is very low. This new Shia law got very little attention anywhere before it appeared in the UK Guardian and became a big international story. It is still not a big domestic story.”
So, if it were not for the Guardian’s reportage this law allowing men to rape their wives would have slipped through unnoticed. What more riling and convincing reason could bloggers, journalists and commentators need to scrutinise, campaign and raise awareness the treatment of women overseas?
If you ever face similar such arguments student Hasani’s, which dissuade you from ‘interfering’ in foreign women’s rights, please bear in mind this very famous poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller.
First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Social Democrats,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Social Democrat.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew,
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.