Months before the actual day of the Afghan Election for 2014 and even when the campaign period officially began, stress and worries over the status of women in Afghanistan before, during, and after transition were conveyed everywhere in the country. There was rhetoric over a possible diminish of Afghan women’s rights, which translates into the disregard of all the many years of work towards gender equality and women empowerment in Afghanistan. Thus, talk about regression of women’s status was difficult to contain and in fact was already spreading. Nearing the outcome of the second run-off (that is hoped to name the next president of the country), it could not be helped that feelings of anxiety has been piling up.
Those men and women who are working conscientiously, in their respective capacities, to ensure that Afghan women’s status would not retrogress in what it used to be before 2001 are highly commendable. But there is a concern that needs to be raised. In this widespread and usually general discussion of any matter, thus including the subject matter on the Afghan woman’s fate, only those of the majority’s experience or those that are observable are tackled; only those topics or instances that people are comfortable dealing with are brought to the fore. More often than not, some narratives are kept on the periphery for such reasons that these are judged to be unworthy or these are meant to be covered to defend specific interest.
Take the case of narratives regarding violence against women. The popular narratives greatly revolve around stories of physical violence in which men are the perpetrators. It’s rare to find published or well-discussed stories of harassment done on women, whether emotionally or verbally, by women. These forms of violence, though may not leave physical, observable marks, but are more lasting than physical beating. It encroaches into the well-being of a person that serves as the core of his or her existence. In the case of women, particularly many Afghan women who are still in the process of building a strengthened well-being, experiencing this violence is debilitating, more so, if this was done by fellow Afghan women, whom they see to be their allies in their emancipation from the rigid and often harmful economic, political, and social structures in the society. If never addressed, this can lead to what the writer calls the “death of hope” which further leads to the “cessation of aspiring for one’s life purpose.” How then can these stories be examined?
Accounts of ordinary Afghan men who value, both in words and actions, the contributions of women are seldom conveyed publicly and examined. It is not so, for Afghan men who are occupying significant public positions. The discomfort, probably of ordinary Afghan men, over sharing this experience is understandable given the norms and practices in Afghanistan. However, this could be a promising catalyst towards the inclusion and the greater realization of men of the essence of their participation in the promotion of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
These are just few areas related to the status of Afghan women that have remained on the fringe of the general rhetoric. Including them in the discourses in the general public sphere more often (e.g. in research, in public debates at different levels and sectors, including the media, and in programme or project developments) will be a constructive step towards more gender equality and women empowerment in Afghanistan.