Life For Women In Afghanistan
Lucy and I were extremely privileged to be invited to the Women for Women showing of the thought provoking documentary film Frame by Frame (trailer), on Monday evening of last week, which gave us an insight into Life For Women In Afghanistan. The film follows four Afghan photojournalists as they navigate an emerging and dangerous media landscape and for me personally was a real eye opener. (The photojournalists are Wakil Kohsar, Najibullah Musafer, Massoud Hossaini and Farzana Wahidy).
Frame by Frame is a film I would urge everyone to watch, if only to get an understanding of the Afghan way of life. It is still a huge risk for photographers to carry out their work, however, the people followed in the film are passionate about highlighting the good and bad of their country through their craft. They are making a courageous stand for their rights, for which you can only have huge admiration.
Being totally honest, I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy the film – how wrong I was. This film completely captivated me. Not only that, it was an education and a complete eye opener, it taught me more about life in Afghanistan, especially for women, than anything else I have ever seen. For this reason, we felt it was our responsibility to share some of the information with you.
Did you know…
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, taking a photo was a crime? Can you even imagine that? After the regime fell from power in 2001, a fledgling free press emerged and a photography revolution was born. Now, as foreign troops and media withdraw, Afghanistan is left to stand on its own, and so are its journalists.
Prior to the Taliban rule, life for women in Afghanistan was very different. Women had many more rights and far more freedom than they do now? This for me was probably the biggest surprise, I had assumed women in Afghanistan had always been oppressed, but just look at the photographs below (source http://dangerousminds.net/):-
According to a State Department report from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from 2001:
“Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were protected under law and increasingly afforded rights in Afghan society. Women received the right to vote in the 1920s; and as early as the 1960s, the Afghan constitution provided for equality for women. There was a mood of tolerance and openness as the country began moving toward democracy. Women were making important contributions to national development. In 1977, women comprised over 15% of Afghanistan’s highest legislative body. It is estimated that by the early 1990s, 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women. Afghan women had been active in humanitarian relief organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work. These professional women provide a pool of talent and expertise that will be needed in the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan.”
During the rule of the Taliban (1996 – 2001), women were treated worse than during any other leadership in the history of Afghanistan. They were forbidden to work, to leave the house without a male escort, to seek medical help from a male doctor.
Under the Taliban regime, women were also forced to cover themselves completely from head to toe, even covering their eyes. Women who were doctors and teachers suddenly were forced to be beggars and even prostitutes in order to feed their families. Women accused of prostitution were publicly stoned to death in the soccer stadium in Kabul.
Has life for women in Afghanistan improved since the fall of the Taliban?
Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, women have gained political rights. The recently adopted Afghan constitution states that “the citizens of Afghanistan –whether man or woman—have equal rights and duties before the law.”
While the Afghan government and international community are working for women’s rights, since most women are illiterate, they are not engaged in the process. Thus the government has reduced women’s rights when it feels it is politically expedient: In February 2009 President Karzai signed a law which affects several key rights of Afghan Shi’a women:
* Denies women the right to leave their homes except for “legitimate” purposes;
* Forbids women from working or receiving education without their husbands’ express permission;
* Explicitly permits marital rape;
* Diminishes the right of mothers to be their children’s guardians in the event of a divorce;
* And makes it impossible for wives to inherit houses and land from their husbands – even though husbands may inherit immoveable property from their wives.
While this law only applies to Shi’a (less than 20% of women), the fact that such a draconian law was passed at all indicates how easily women’s rights can be bargained away if women are still illiterate and isolated.
– Girl’s education has improved. Since 2002, the number of girls attending school increased by over 30 percent; however, an estimated 1.5 million school-age girls are still not enrolled in classes.
UNICEF reported that 34 percent of children enrolled in school are girls, although this figure hides large disparities from province to province, with enrollment as low as 15 percent in some areas.
– Child marriage is more difficult. The Afghan government recently changed the legal age for marriage for girls from 16 to 17. Men who want to marry girls under 17 are not entitled to obtain a marriage certificate, although many men simply do not bother with officially registering their marriages. However, it seems that fewer girls are getting married.
– Women can be employed, but only if their male relatives permit it. But with high unemployment rates, some feel employing women takes jobs from men.
– While more girls and women are getting an education and are free to move about, families may not be willing to take the risk.
Extremists still believe that if girls are visible outside the home, they lose respect and are at risk of dishonoring the family. Engaged or married girls, even if they are young, are often kept behind closed doors.
– Self-immolation (setting oneself on fire) has decreased from 350 cases per year in Herat province to 70 cases per year after a government education campaign. (Young abused wives often feel they have no way out but self-immolation.)
– Fewer children die before age 5. Child mortality has been decreased by half! Though the rate is still high, improvements in access to clean water, electricity and sanitation, as well as better educated mothers, have helped the save the lives of thousands of Afghan women.
Though these gains for girls and women may seem small from an outsiders perspective, they are real.
All change—if it is to be permanent–cannot be imposed by Western outsiders on this tribal, Islamic, post-conflict society. It has to emerge through education within the context of the culture. (source http://www.trustineducation.org/resources/life-as-an-afghan-woman/)
It would appear that although there has been some improvement, there is still much more which needs to be done. During the documentary it is apparent women do not have anywhere near the same rights as men, highlighted by Farzana Wahidy, the only female photographer followed in this documentary, who is best known for her photographs of women and girls in Afghanistan. She was the first female photographer in Afghanistan to work with international media agencies such as the Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP).
One disturbing part of the film is when Farzana visits a hospital to find out more about self-immolation, a male doctor talks to her about a particular patient who has been admitted with burns, when Farzana pushes to see the girl he refuses her admission and, in my opinion, tries to deny the burns were caused by self-immolation. The very fact this horrific act happens is bad enough, to think it is being covered up by doctors is incomprehensible.
Massoud Hossaini – another of the photographers in the documentary, is the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography, for his heartbreaking image of a girl crying in fear after a suicide bomber’s attack at a crowded shrine in Kabul. I was going to add the photograph but it is so graphic I didn’t want to offend anyone, that said, I do believe everyone should see it, as a way of understanding the atrocities the people of Afghanistan have lived through, if you are interested you can click here 2012 Pulizer Prize Winner – please be aware it is shocking.
We were hugely privileged to be able to speak live, via Skype, with Massoud Hossaini and Farzana Wahidy after the screening of Frame by Frame, it was a humbling experience, one to speak to a Pulitzer prize winner but also to feel that close to people living in a war torn country, so far removed from our own lives.
The most poignant part of this talk for me was when Massoud said he “felt like they were going back to the dark time of their history again“, those words have haunted me since. His reason for stating this were because, in his words, right now is a really bad situation with the Taliban returning and worse still ISIL/ISAS. He implied if they take over things would be worse than ever before. Every day there are more threats.
“We don’t want the world to forget about Afghanistan“. If we leave and forget it will become a safe haven for terrorist organisations again, Britain was the second biggest help to them after the U.S. Being British hearing those words made me feel shame. It is as if we have simply turned our backs on the good people of Afghanistan.
Women for Women International is an incredible charity, headed in the UK by their executive director Brita Schmidt, who was present on the evening and had such a wonderful aura, you could feel the passion she has for the charity. They need any support you can give them, to enable them to continue and grow their charity work in the worst countries in the world for women to live in, Afghanistan is just one of them.
Or if you are interested in improving life for women in Afghanistan, why not take a look at the Women for Women programme to sponsor a woman living in a country affected by war and conflict, you can find our more here Sponsor a Sister.
Plus Lucy wrote an article on the charity a few weeks ago, which you can find here Women for Women Article
We are blessed to live in a country not affected by war or conflict, we may complain about our own lives but just try to imagine how incredibly hard our lives would be if we lived somewhere like Afghanistan? Please do all you can to help.