The Abominable Everywoman

November 3, 2006

The following is a translation of an excellent piece by Sakhidad Hatif from his blog …و یک اشاره Desclaimer: this is a hastily done translation and I do not claim to understand everything that Hatif has to say. Further, I am known to go for the overkill when it comes to the use of both vocabulary and imagery in language. The responsibility for any shortcomings is entirely mine. Those who can read Farsi are recommended to visit Hatif’s blog for the original. I just wanted to share what I found an important read with the rest of you, and to remind Hatif (yet again) that a possible future collaboration -combining his incisive insights and my meager language skills- can present the wider world with another, less murkier picture of the situation in Afghanistan.

The Abominable Everywoman*
By Sakhidad Hatif (trans. Hamescha)

A RECENT REPORT** by Womankind Worldwide has found that the situation of women in Afghanistan has not improved five years after the fall of the Taliban.

Really, are we to believe that it was supposed to?

There is a profound detachment from reality when it comes to speaking of women in Afghanistan. In fact, there are two types of women in Afghanistan: the abstract woman, and the woman of flesh and blood that lives in many households. Women’s rights activists in Afghanistan mostly deal with the former type -the diffuse abstraction that abounds in the cultural sphere and in most people’s imaginations -and not with the woman of flesh and blood. This is why the notion of “woman” is so elusive in Afghanistan. Wherever you look, there is not a woman in sight.

Consider this statement: “Every woman is entitled to study, work, and live as she sees fit.”

Which “every woman” are we really talking about here? In reality, the only woman who is entitled to these rights is an amorphous abstraction -call her the abominable everywoman. As long as she exists as a creature of our collective conscience, her rights and liberties are sacred and defensible. No sooner than she manifests herself in the form of a concrete being of flesh and blood that nuances surface and those same rights and liberties are subjected to questioning.

In fact, the vacuous notion of “every woman” is so void of -and at odds with- reality, that Afghan women themselves do not recognize it. Ask any woman in Afghanistan whether every woman should have the right to study, work, and live freely. Most women do not really know what this “every woman” means, so it does not matter what their answers are. If the answer is no, the person does not believe such a thing exists. If the answer is yes, most likely here is what it really means: “Yes, ‘every woman’ has the right to work, study, and live freely -but I am not one of those ‘every women,’ because I do not want to study, work, and live freely.”
Ask the same question of men, and while you will get a good deal of negative -and indignant- responses, even those who agree that every woman is entitled to these rights and freedoms will, in action, allow it only for the abominable everywoman, and for not the women who happen to live under his roof.

Let’s suppose that there are those who really do believe in equal rights and opportunities for all women, including those of their own households. Question is, what rights and opportunities? What have these staunch defenders of women’s rights done to transform the patriarchal undercurrent of Afghan society? As long as these mentalities and undercurrents continue to prevail, the right to work, study and live freely will only serve to further reinforce misogynist attitudes towards women, and burden them with the double responsibilities of working both in and outside the home. In other words, it will take from women what security they enjoy now, without giving them anything in return. Under these circumstances, such things as the creation of a “Ministry for Women’s Affairs” and reserving one quarter of the seats in the National Assembly for women are not only naive but also counterproductive.


*A play on “The Abominable Snowman,” a creature as much of the exoticism of the colonial western imagination as of the natives of Himalaya (some say the Hindu Kush) with which it was associated. One might say a fitting play given the current context.

**The report “Taking Stock: Afghan Women and Girls Five Years On” is not available on the website of Womankind Worldwide. Email me for an e-copy.