People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Pet Rocks
If one can assume that the foreign news coverage of The New York Times is reflective of the (sometimes conflicting) views of the US government, what can we learn from its coverage of Afganistan? Saturday’s headline tells of a “wave of violence” sweeping Afghanistan—two dozen people, including a police chief, were killed by Taliban bombs in the last few days. In the last month, coverage has also included US-Afghan talks on future relations; untold bags of CIA cash for Karzai; other Taliban attacks on civilians; and mixed messages on the “transition.” And what about Afghan women and civil society?
No news, and no surprise if we remember the anonymous senior State Department official who told the Washington Post in 2011, “Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities. There's no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.” Remember those words when people tell you the reason the US invaded Afghanistan was to rescue Afghan women.
Oh, baby, all these years we’ve been together and all I am to you is a pet rock?
Looming on the horizon are disastrous changes to the Violence Against Women act—one of the few proud achievements of the occupation, even if seldom enforced. The Elimination of Violence Against Women act was a decree made by President Karzai in 2009; it never came before Parliament. This week Fawzia Koofi, an MP who is running for President, brought the law into Parliament--and Afghan women into the Times--despite the fact that the lower house is dominated by stone reactionaries and many Afghan feminists opposed the idea. The Afghan Women’s Netowrk called a press conference to warn against the move on May 16 and sent out this letter to friends overseas:
For those of you who are following the controversy over the Elimination of Violence against Women Law (EVAW) which was enacted in 2009 through a decree of President. The law was developed through an organic movement of women of Afghanistan 2005-2009.
In today’s Parliament session the law was reviewed as anti (islamic) Shariah and was reverted to the commissions of the parliament [I.e. sent to committee] to have close scrutiny of the law from Islamic Shariah before voting in general assembly.
The EVAW law has been considered a major step forward in the legal protection of women’s rights in last 12 years. EVAW law criminalizes child marriage, forced marriage, selling and buying of women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, ba’ad (giving away a woman or girl to settle a dispute), forced self-immolation and 17 other acts of violence against women including rape and beating.
Since last two years civil society organization including human rights network, Afghan Women Network, Afghan Civil society forum and Human rights Commission has reached the women commission of Parliament under Ms. Koofi to be realistic to the situation in Parliament and lay down her effort for bringing the law in agenda of parliament.
The concerns of civil society had been twofold. A, while EVAW is already is officially gazetted and legally enforced, other efforts is only reinvention of the wheel and waste of resources and time. B, most importantly that law can bear high risk of weakening and rejection considering the conservative environment inside Afghan Parliament
The highlight of Today's session of Parliament are:
These concerns have been well known from the beginning through an independent analysis of UNAMA and civil society; however the transparency of the process and accountability of Women Commission of Parliament can be questioned for bringing the conviction that everything is rosy in Parliament and labeling civic movement for the protection of the law as part of political controversy of her opponents.
Now that genuine concern of Afghan Civil society is clear, there is need of serious attention of international interlocutors in Afghanistan towards protection of the law; as Afghan Women’s Network press statement (16 May) warns “…this will be beginning of the decline of women’s rights in Afghanistan.”
So over to you, “international interlocutors in Afghanistan.” You have spent all the time and money in the world on military solutions that haven’t solved anything. How about trying some political solutions? How about strengthening civil society instead of putting all your money into drones, weapons, bases and Karzai's pocket? How about defending women’s human rights?
Or are such civilian concerns just another bunch of pet rocks to you?