Afghan Men Wear Burqas To Campaign For Women’s Rights In Afghanistan

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Once again people, this is “He For She” in action. It seems Emma Watson’s viral speech about men getting involved in issues of gender equality has started to resonate with a lot of men around the world. A group of awesome dudes in Afghanistan decided it was there turn to show the world what their version of gender equality looks like, and took to the streets to show they are serious.

In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8) these men marched through the streets of Kabul, the capital, donning head-to-toe burqas to draw attention to women’s rights, or in this case, the lack thereof. They chose to wear the burqas because they have come to be known as an international symbol of oppression for women, especially in the Arab world.

The hardline Taliban forced women to wear burqas in public during their rule in the 1990s and concern is growing in Afghanistan and among its allies that gains for women made since the 2001 U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban are at risk, reports Reuters.

The men protested in conjunction with a a human rights activist group called Afghan Peace Volunteers wanted to show what a juxtaposition it is to celebrate what should be such a positive day around the world, yet there are many women who have next to no freedoms to celebrate.

“Our authorities will be celebrating International Women’s Day in big hotels, but we wanted to take it to the streets,” said activist Basir, 29, who uses one name. “One of the best ways to understand how women feel is to walk around and wear a burqa.”

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Several of the men said wearing a burqa felt “like a prison”. They carried signs reading: “equality”,  “Don’t tell women what to wear, you should cover your eyes”,  “women’s pain is our pain, equality is our slogan” and “we say no to all forms of violence”.

“I walked the streets today in a burqa to understand how my sisters and mothers face violence from men on a daily basis,” another protester said. “I wanted to understand the situation.”

Some men stopped to watch, laughing and heckling. Some were confused; others said women’s rights encouraged prostitution.

Some female passers-by were also nonplussed.

“We don’t need anyone to defend our rights,” said Medina Ali, a 16-year-old student wearing a black veil that showed only her eyes and woolly gloves on a cold morning.

“This is just a foreign project to create a bad image for the burqa and Afghanistan. They’re trying to make those of us who cover our faces feel bad.”

The Human Rights Watch warns that the country is beginning to backslide on progress made towards women’s freedoms in the past decade, now that there is decreased international interest in Afghanistan.

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When the Taliban came to power in the late 1990s and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – leader of political party Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin – was elected as Afghanistan’s prime minister, women’s rights were drastically reduced and new laws were implemented.

The situation of women in Afghanistan improved somewhat after President Hamid Karzai was elected in 2004 and the Taliban government was removed.

In February 2014 however, President Karzai refused to sign the draft Criminal Procedure Code, which would have denied justice to victims of rape, domestic violence and under-aged and forced marriage.

According to some of the old laws, many of which are still in place today, women were not allowed to access education after the age of eight, and they could not work or leave their houses unless they were accompanied by a male guardian.

They were not allowed to appear on the balconies of their houses, they had to wear the burqa when in public and could not speak loudly because no men external to their family should hear their voices. Visits from a male doctor were also prohibited unless the woman was accompanied by a male guardian and they were banned from TV channels, radio stations and all public places.

A June 2014 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), in 2013 at least 95% of the women imprisoned and 50% of girls were accused of “zina”, intercourse between two people outside of marriage. Zina, according to the Islamic law, is punishable with public caning and/or stoning to death.

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A string of physical assaults in 2013 against high-profile women highlighted the danger to activists and women in public life. These included:

  • July 5: Former parliamentarian Noor Zia Atmar revealed that she was living in a battered women’s shelter due to attacks from her husband. She later confirmed that she was seeking asylum abroad.
  • August 7: Unknown attackers shot Rooh Gul, a parliamentarian in the upper house, as she travelled by road through Ghazni province. She and her husband survived, but her eight-year-old daughter and driver were killed.
  • September 4:  A self-described Taliban breakaway group dragged Sushmita Banerjee, an Indian woman married to an Afghan health worker, from her house in Paktika province, shot her repeatedly, and dumped her body outside a religious school.
  • September 16: Lieutenant Nigara, the highest ranking female police officer in Helmand province, was shot and killed on her way to work less than three months after the July 3 assassination of her predecessor, Lt. Islam Bibi.

According to a February 2015 report by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (Rawa), the AIHRC registered over 4,000 cases of violations against women, including rape, extrajudicial executions and torture, in nine months.

The demonstration by the Afghan men in burqas occurred shortly after a woman was almost killed by some men after walking through the streets of Kabul wearing metal armor in a bid to denounce sexual harassment.

These protests may not go so far as to change the law, but if it at least infiltrates the patriarchal culture in Afghanistan, then perhaps it is a start. Women’s rights in a war-ravaged country like Afghanistan which is still recovering from decades of brutal government rule by extremists cannot be fought for by only half the population.

With both men and women on the same side of wanting gender equality, with increased international media attention, we hope demonstrations like this will enable us to realize there is still a lot of work to do to achieve gender parity world wide.

We salute the revolutionary Afghan men who choose to see their fellow countrywomen as equals.

Afghan men protest violence against women

 

 

2 Comments

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