Saturday, February 19, 2011

Women's Shelters in Afghanistan

"This campaign is meant to try to appease the Taliban; it is a goodwill gesture toward them. For that reason, it's very, very dangerous." Manizha Naderi, Women for Afghan Women
Husn Banu Ghazanfar, the acting minister for women's affairs appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai however, believes differently. The issue is who should receive international funding for the operation of the women's shelters scattered throughout the country. The funding goes into the hands of NGOs working with local women to improve the lives of battered Afghan women and girls.

The shelters' work is actually to shelter these women who have been savagely harassed and abused and who fear for their lives through the reprisals of outraged men and family members whose honour has been impacted by the audacity of their women to resist tradition. Those who operate these shelters dedicated to the repair of the mental and physical state of these victimized women fear the government's intentions.

The day-to-day administration of the shelters would be placed in jeopardy, they feel, should the administration of President Karzai be successful in persuading international donors that his government should be the recipient of operating funds. The spearheading of this initiative is thought to be an attempt to bring deeply conservative Afghans into support of the Karzai government.

And the losers would be the women and girls running away from abusive forced marriages, where the women are treated like chattel, and beaten and refused rest, and where rape victims appear for shelter from the certainty of family honour being avenged by blaming them for their rape. The traditional religious/cultural conservatives in opposition to women's basic human rights is endemic in Afghan society.

And the Taliban whose classical treatment of women as disposable objects whose mission in life is to please and obey men's dictates, to bear and raise children, to absent themselves from public life, and accept that a woman's lot includes regular thrashing, whom President Karzai is busily attempting to negotiate a peace and power-sharing deal with, would far prefer not to have Western ideals in indulging women to impact on Afghan social life.

The handful of shelters established in urban centers are barely sufficient to scratch the surface of need for Afghan women fleeing desperate situations, looking for a safe refuge and medical treatment as it is. Fear of exacting the wrath and vengeance of those who hold them in thrall is enough to keep most Afghan women in their state of desperate survival.

"I would never have had the courage to run, if there had not been somewhere to run to", confessed one wanly relieved village woman. Western governments from whom the financial aid emanates are understandably loathe to render unto this Caesar what he deems to be his due, given the rampant corruption known to rule the country and which President Karzai refuses to acknowledge.

This is, after all, a medieval society, lagging in every indice of forward-looking human entitlements for its population living in a morass of squalid poverty and gender violations. One which believes that the safe havens that these women's shelters represent hide the real purpose of their existence, as houses of prostitution.

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