The reasons of less participation of Afghan women in politics:

Marvah Shakib
Posted December 14, 2010 from Afghanistan

The reasons of less participation of women in politics: What are the reasons of women mobility became circumscribed in Afghanistan? Why women have less participation in politics? Most of the countries have patriarchy systems as Afghanistan does; and most of the high positions are occupied and controlled by men. In fact, women’s participation has been slightly increased recently, but not as satisfying and fair as it should be. For instance, according to Emine Dilek, “Despite facing threats, violence and intimidation, Afghan women did not give up their right to participate in the country’s elections and won 69 of the 249 open seats in the parliament of the September 2010 elections”(Dilek, 1). This report shows that women have to struggle to earn their rights that they have, and so a minority might accept the risk to put their life in danger to earn their rights, that is why we have less participation of women. However, facing threats, violence and intimidation are not the only rocks that make the path difficult for women to pass, and perform less in politics. Hence, I want to explore the reasons and the roots of limitations to women’s formal political participation and also their ability to participate in non-governmental or activist settings in public sphere. The first reason for their limited participation is the ways that “women” has been defined which is “honor,” “virtue,” “being entitled as a good wife good mother” while by being an activist in the society, may be define as “nation betrayers.” A second reason is the used of women in contemporary and historical gender politics, and political purposes in Afghanistan. Women are defined as honor or virtue of a family, a very susceptible to be debilitated by the outsiders, and most importantly “mothers” “lovers” “sister” which means the women’s sexuality is being used to privatize, and control her. Indeed, when they say the words “mother” “sister” or “wife” means a very vulnerable “honor” in life, which is usually at home to be protected. These all ideologies are reflected from the mirror of the “woman” image that has been reflected and defined in Afghan society. According to Cynthia Enloe, “men in many communities appear to assign such ideological weight to the outward attire and sexual purity for women in the community because they see women as, 1. Family or nation’s most vulnerable possessions, 2. Most susceptible to assimilation and co-option by insidious outsiders” (Enloe, 222). To clarify my discussion, I would like to add an example of my community. In Afghanistan, where the context of kinship ordered patriarchal social system, according to Moghadam, “the members of community discuss the control of all resources, they discuss about land, labor, and women in terms of honor” (Moghadam, 176). This example firstly shows the value of women that comes in the category of wealth, and by this category places women in a private sphere (home), and men in public sphere. Therefore, with the image of women as honor and so private, if a woman works outside and participate in the decision making of the society, she looks out of place and unfamiliar to the public, and she is not really acceptable in the family as well as the society. Women activists in a patriarchy society: Woman activist is not “entitled as a good wife and a good mother,” women who work outside of the house, has problems inside their family with their husbands, and with successful high position men in their work place, and also the members of the society itself. The woman who go out from the morning to work either in governmental organizations, or in the NGOs for securing the future of her children, being the arm of her husband, and financially independent, she may meet strong resistant from her husband. According to Enloe, “The members of the family as well as the working woman’s husband may accuse her of neglecting her home duties, having a sexual liaison, making him look a fool in the eyes of other men, who may taunt him for not being able to control his wife” (Enloe, 225). This is an ugly truth that has been swept under the rug of women’s invisibility, and it is one of the important reasons that makes women to not want to work outside and participate in the society easily, while the “not having capable women” to work in high positions is often the answer of the Afghan state.

Furthermore, women activists not only face problem in the family, but also in the society by the people and by the authority. To restate Enloe’s saying, the more imminent and coercive the threat posed by an outside power, community force or family, the more successful men in the community are likely to be in persuading women to keep quiet, to swallow their grievances and their analyses. By keeping women silent, men provides the opportunity for having the privilege, and be heard more. Indeed, the problems of women working in the governmental high positions go beyond not only being heard, they are also being threatened by the government opposition party, and they are being pointed as “nation betrayers.” although only putting different names bothers women, but also they should accept the danger of being killed as well . For example, “Maria Bashir, the first female chief prosecutor in the country, has been threatened numerous times because of her work and survived an assassination attempt” said Chris Sands. This example shows how risky for Ms Maria is to be an active woman activist, and how society resist in different masks against her. To analyze the resist of patriarchy society against women activists, I can address that outsiders of the country may call those women ‘nation builders.” Most of the women activists snatch the opportunities to improve their capacity and serve better, and those opportunities are mostly offered from foreign countries specially America. On the other hand, women and girls are simultaneously projected as “nation betrayers” by the Taliban insurgency, which chastised women often violently, for being “propagandized” by outsiders through their activism and participation in foreign facilitated reforms. Although, we might say that since the collapse of the Taliban in 2001,a new space for engagement in political activism though nongovernmental channels, or through “civil society,” has opened up. Potentially, this means that there is new space for women to engage in political activities. However, women face many obstacles when trying to enter this sphere. This is because very restrictive ideas of the “Afghan Woman” remain and have not been adequately challenged. To enlighten more on how the restrictive idea of the “Afghan Woman” was existed in orthodox’s minds and they improved it in the past, that we can see the effect of it today. I will articulate more on the historical role of Afghan woman in gender politics further. Women “political” and “economic” exchanges: In this section, I will go back to the history of gender politics, the use of women as political tools, and relate the authority of religiopolitics, Mujahedin the seven party confederations of Islamic holy warriors who were based in Pakistan during the civil conflict, in Afghanistan. In 1970s, the structure of the society was based on a classic patriarchy, which means the senior man was controlling the younger men of the family as well as women by having restrictive code of behavior for female and female virtue with family honor. “Marriages forced or voluntary have been a way of ending feuds, cementing a political alliance between families, increasing a family’s prestige, or accumulating wealth” (Moghadam, 176). This quote indicates that women were used as a tool to make better political relationship, giving a woman for the price of the blood that they took, or earning money, so we can say that women were used as “economic” and “political” exchanges. In 1978, Noor Muhammad Traki took the power and brought a new regime with new rules. He basically gave ten decrees for the state which was also for the benefit of women and women’s right, and he brought more freedom and modernity to the state, but overall he was not in the acceptance of many traditionalist fathers. In one of his speeches in November 1978 announced, “Through the issuance of decree no.6 and 7, the hard working peasants were freed from bonds of oppressors and money lenders, ending the sale of girls for good as hereafter nobody would be entitled to sell any girl or woman in this country” (Moghadam, 178).

These decrees were candles being alight in women’s life, bringing them from the darkness of in inequity to the bright future and a modern life. Later on, the state enforced laws like compulsory education for all, and also announced that women have the right to divorce, but the people were not ready to accept. The traditionalist fathers who wanted to have control over their daughters, and the villagers who believed that women should not appear in the public refused to attend classes in the first day of the school. Consequently, refugees started pouring in Pakistan, by the name of protecting the honor of their daughters and women from the state’s laws. When president Taraki was killed in 1979, those refugees by the help of Pakistan and other “Islamic internationalist” by the course of time took the power of the state, by the name of Mujaheden, and they restricted women’s covering, Hejab, and women’s working in the state. Finally, by passing some historical events and civil wars the Taliban came, and completely imprisoned women, that still we can see all those effects in women’s life in different aspects of life. As a result women was a main cause of resistance and effect of those gender politics is one of the reasons that today women do not dare to freely take step and challenge the society. By looking in to the history of Afghan women, we can realize that the participation, liberty and improvement of women have been a really central concern for some orthodox people in Afghanistan. Thus, they created such a patriarchal society; therefore, we can see the effect of those restricted ideas that exist in contemporary Afghanistan, and has not been adequately challenged. Conclusion: In conclusion, from the observing the history of the gender politics and its effects in women’s life today, from the ways that “women” has been defined which is “honor,” “virtue,” “being entitled as a good wife good mother.” And from the used of women in gender politics, and political purposes in Afghanistan, I can say that Afghan women has always been discouraged, and struggling with the society and their life. Therefore, the result that we have from all these facts is that women are self emulating, committing suicide, or being in deep depression. Those who dare to come forward and work as activists, have to face problems twice as a man might face. However, the solution for it I think is to awake women from their “false consciousness,” I mean to teach them that they are not only “honors” “virtues,” and they are more than only a “mother,” “wife,” and “sister”, indeed, they are the half of nation, the control of the nation is in their hand, not control of them in nation’s hand. Teach them that they are being used as political and economical exchanges, they should be aware of it instead of thinking that it is their faith to face all the misery of life. Finally, Afghan women who is always pictured as a horrible burnt body or nose less young woman, by the title of “frustration of women” could change all the politics and wars, if they would have been united and don’t accept to be refugees with their husbands in Pakistan. Of course, to be individual and resist is silly, but if we all hand to hand give decision for the good of the nation can really bring changes that never in the history has been brought by any “National Jihad Heros” who are always being admire as a hero, but in fact are the most sophisticated murderers. To be honest, the goal of writing this paper was the horrible picture of “Afghan Women” that I am always being given by media, people, society, and family, and to use this proverb, I also feel that Afghan women are “caught between a rock and a hard place.” They are having a hard time contemporary, but I believe, it will not remain forever.

References: katzman, Kenneth. "Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Preformance." Congressional research service (Nov,30,2009): 13,14. Web. 13 Dec 2010. Sands, Christ. "Frustrated Afghan women turn to self-immolation." Nationa Beta (march,12,2010): 1,2. Web. 13 Dec 2010. Dilek, emine. "Afghan women won 69 seats in recent elections." Wome's views on news (Nov,30,2010): 1. Web. 13 Dec 2010.

Moghadam, Valentine.M. "Revolution, Religion, and Gender politics: Iran and Afghanistan." Journal of Women’s History. (1999): 176, 177, 178, Print. Chishti, Maliha. "Gender and the development Battlefield in Afghanistan: Nation Builders versus Nation Betrayers." Project Muse. 30. (Nov, 02, 2010): Print.

Pettman, Jan Jindy. "Women and Citizenship." Worlding women: Afeminist international Politics. (1996): 168. Print.

Enloe, Cynthia. "Nationalism and Masculinity." making Femenist sense of international politics Berkely. (1990): 224,225. Print.

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