Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Afghan Women Say West Should Butt Out

While many folks in the West have been outraged by Afghanistan’s proposed law to make rape within marriage legal for Shia Muslims, it seems that Afghan women want the West to stay out of the debate.

Young women attending Kabul University – probably the most progressive institution in Afghanistan – were surprised and bewildered about the ‘Afghan rape law’ debate that’s been raging in Europe and North America. The Calgary Herald reports that the “nearly unanimous view on the campus was that the West should not involve itself in the country’s cultural and religious affairs.” Hamida Hasani, an 18 year old student said the problem of women’s rights in Afghanistan belongs only to the Afghan women, and that Western women who have not experienced war or hunger can’t understand what the most important things to fight for are.

The article also mentions that most people in Afghanistan are not aware of the pending new law because “public awareness of any legislation before parliament is very low.”

Issues like this are tough; as a feminist I care about women’s rights and well-being and I want all women to live with equality and freedom – regardless of their culture. However, I also want to be respectful of other cultures and not impose Western ideas of what’s “right” onto other people. What do you think - should the West back off or continue to express their outrage on this issue?

1 comment:

  1. Ok, it's a long one:

    I'm feeling quite torn about this, also.

    It seems as though in situations like this, there can be a fine line between advocacy and cultural intrusion. As the students at Kabul University have suggested, it's very difficult for those of us whom have not witnessed severe political distress first hand to understand the primary concerns of others who have. I just recently read a short essay from that talks about the "geo-political dilemmas of feminists". It totally struck a chord with me and I was reminded of it in light of the news..

    What the essay discussed was how blinded western women can become by their experiences as... western women (for lack of a better term). Our ideological beliefs as feminists, despite their intentions, may differ wildly from those of feminists outside of our immediate social networks. We trust that our aspirations to achieve absolute justice for women everywhere are good, but because the approach is largely built on our cultural experiences, it can be easy for us to use those experiences as catalysts for our involvement in the affairs of women around the world. Obviously, this is tricky when women's experiences -and, thus, cultural and political values- have the ability to differ so vastly.

    I am torn because as a feminist I almost feel it's my natural duty to respond to world policies that appear to go against my own ethics. I feel that concern SHOULD be expressed by international delegates on my behalf.

    We are often taught to achieve peace by embracing all women and all men as sisters and brothers. Usually, our instincts are to defend these sisters and brothers from the things we believe are harmful to them. The thought of stopping to ask ourselves about what they have endured and what they are capable of enduring is so far from our minds that we don't even give them an opportunity to fend for themselves. Clearly, this can be dangerous and obstructive.

    This whole thing has been a source of conflict and, equally, a source of enlightenment for me.