On the eve of another International Women’s Day the lot of Afghan women has not improved considerably since the fall of the Taliban. That is the unanimous verdict from the UN, AIHRC (Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission) and a number of other organizations and reports in the media. Domestic violence, forced marriages, lack of access to health services (and of lesser immediate concern, to education) remain alarmingly high.
According to AIHRC, only in the south-western province of Farah (home to Malalai Joya – vocal woman parliamentarian) self-burning has increased by a whopping 80% over the course of the past year. Other provinces in the same zone have also seen significant rise in self-burning by women victims of domestic violence and forced marriages.
The extreme phenomenon of “burning brides” -as once reported in the West, with flagrant romantic and orientalist overtones- is immensely tragic and existentially fascinating in equal measures; and while we hope the practice itself and the circumstances that lead to it come to an end, it calls for a serious cross-cutting psychological-anthropological-philosophical treatment in the future.
Even with the stigma that is associated with breaching family confidence and reporting abuse, AIHRC documented 1650 cases of violence against women in 2006. The commission also reported 120 cases of death by suicide (self-burning and OD’ing on painkillers) for 2006. No less shocking, IRIN reports that every 30 minutes an Afghan woman dies during childbirth, and the average life expectancy for Afghan women is 44 years. According to UNIFEM (UN Dev. Fund for Women), about 90% of Afghan women are illiterate. (more)
All of this however does not mean that revolutions of a cosmetic nature are not taking place. Afghan women are among the most talked-about women in the world today (right up there with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears), and the focus of a global circle of bleeding-heart sympathy that translates to photo-ops, quick-fix projects, conferences, and start-up non-profits. Yesterday, two Kabul newspapers’ editorials duly blasted these as mere talk and repetitious stage shows that do very little to tangibly change the status of women of Afghanistan. (The dailies are Wisa and Anis – at least once of which primarily targets a women readership)
To mark the occassion the US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice awarded “International Women of Courage” awards to a group of women from around the world that included two women from Afghanistan; the Canadian Governor-General made a surprise visit to Afghanistan; UNDP announced a $10 million grant to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs over the next two years; and Afghanistan’s Supreme Court and the aid group Medica Mondiale announced a joint initiative to register marriages in an effort to cut down on forced marriages. Pojhwak news also reported the opening of a small hospital in Kabul for women narcotics addicts.
[See related post on Safrang: The Abominable Everywomen]