Street Harassment in Kabul
To be very honest, when I was in Afghanistan I felt as if somebody’s holding me back. It sounds bizarre but whenever I wore the ‘Chadar’(Scarf) I felt snappy. Let me make it clear, IslamÂ doesn’tÂ ask women to wear ‘Chadar’.
Being brought up in a Hindu house I was too naive for the Islamic customs. No matter who you are and where you are from, a woman must wear the ‘Chadar’ in Afghanistan. Some might oppose this idea as wrong, but from my personal experience I highly recommend women to wear it and it’s mainly because of safety reasons. Similarly, dressing is a very important aspect here. Majority of women wear identical pattern of clothes. So it becomes easy to identify foreigners. When I told other women about my bad experiences in street they said, “It’s not in our culture. Islam says respect women, but few uncultured illiterate men bring shame to Islam in Afghanistan.”
Street harassment, stalking and name calling is alarmingly high in Afghanistan. There are instances where girls are prohibited from going to schools and colleges because of the street threats. India is no exception to this public nuisance. Molesting, offering and requesting for sexual intercourse, making indecent comment etc. directly affects a woman’s dignity. Unfortunately these incidences go unnoticed and the perpetrators often continue to trouble women. Most of the time women are timid to share such experiences and get no support from the police.
One of my Afghan friends told me about an interesting statistics given by an Afghan Organization called ‘Young women for change’ where they have stated that, “Ninety percent of the women surveyed expressed that they face street harassment on a daily basis, but only forty percent said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual assault in public. Eighteen out of the twenty surveyed said that they did not feel safe in Afghanistan due to street harassment, as well as security concerns. The remaining two said that street harassment made them feel uncomfortable but they did not think the harassers had the intention or the power to hurt them or make them feel vulnerable. The majority of the women said that there was very little communication about street harassment in their families.
Forty percent argued that they would be blamed for street harassment if they talked to their families and twenty percent said they never thought of sharing stories of harassment with their families. Only two of the women said they had gone to the police in cases of sexual assault; none of the women had gone to police for verbal abuse. Seventy percent of the women said that they felt the police was not helpful, and fifty per cent said that the police engaged in harassment. Eighty percent of the interviewees said they thought that all women who exit their houses are subject to street harassment after puberty and men of all ages partake in harassment and assault.
Twenty percent of the women said they were “assertive” against street harassment and “talked back.” The remaining sixty percent, who said they faced daily harassment, said they remained silent and tried to ignore harassment. This research makes it clear that street harassment of women is a prominent problem in Kabul; the majority of women do not feel safe leaving their houses and face daily harassment from men of all ages and backgrounds. The research also shows that the manner of clothing of women has little, if any, correlation to the amount of street harassment they face but victim-blaming is a common approach towards street harassment”.
In conversation with a Afghan General
I got an opportunity to talk to an Afghan General (Sorry, I’m not authorised to reveal more info about him) where in his words I could trace the Government’s attitude towards the reconstruction of the Country. I would like to state that the opinion given by the interviewee is wholly personal and is not responsible for any future consequences. Here is the excerpt of the interview:
Me: Please tell me something about Afghanistan.
General: We are very religious people. We believe only in Allah the great. The country has a long history rooted in its customs and traditions which we follow even today. We were a very rich country before 3 decades. Because of Al-QaedaÂ and Taliban, Islam is being misused. Cannot help, we are in ruins now!
Me: Is it safe for me to visit the Afghan villages?
General: Firstly you should take the permission of the village head. If you don’t work for the Government, then you should arrange for your own safety. Even then the Government will not guarantee you the security as the total control of the situation is not in our hands.
General: Why did you choose to visit Afghanistan?
Me: I always wanted to visit Afghanistan. It was my dream that I come here and learn something. Afghan women are the reason behind my interest towards Afghanistan and its culture. Thus I chose this place.
Me: It’s been 10 years since Taliban has been ousted from power. But the situation of women has not changed much, why?
General: Good question. But I would like to say that you are wrong! Probably you don’t know that our women are progressing in a very fast pace. I believe women are a strong force in Afghanistan. Many Civil Society Organizations are managed by women here. We have over 14,000 lady teachers and lecturers. One of the biggest banks in Kabul is headed by a lady (Ghazanfar Bank). Our constitution provides for 35% reservation. We have 4 women in the cabinet. Women now are studying medicine, engineering etc. The situation has definitely changed.
Me: May be, but it is restricted only to a section of women and particularly to urban areas. What about rural areas?
General: You must know that the carpet on which you are sitting now is weaved by our village women. What I mean here is women in villages are working in handicrafts and other traditional sectors. If they are doing this they will definitely change the face of Afghanistan.
Me: Sorry, but your answer is not satisfying. Do you think the Government has reached the women in rural areas?
General: Unfortunately no. We are not able to help all the women in rural areas. There are some conditions which makes it impossible for us to reach them. For example: family customs. Generally women are not let out of their houses to attend any Governmental programs. It entirely fails the idea of empowerment. Also, the GovernmentÂ doesn’tÂ have much fund to concentrate only on women. Besides, there are many other issues in Afghanistan which needs immediate attention.
Me: Employment and literacy is very low. What is your take on it?
General: We had only 10% literacy before. We are glad that now 30% of Afghanis can read and write. Hope that the situation will improve soon.
Me: Taliban is still living in your country. Don’t you really know where they are hiding?
General: (smiles) I cannot answer to this question. But I would say we are in a helpless situation. We cannot oust them until the foreign powers go out of the country.
Me: I believe that the foreign powers are helping your country?
General: You just believe so. We know the truth. Only we can bring change in our country. But I highly appreciate the role of India in re-building Afghanistan. India and Afghanistan are like brothers. We respect Indians for their culture. Afghanistan will always be there for India’s support.
Me: Thank you believing in my country. Lastly, where do you see Afghanistan after 10years?
General: There is bad conflict going on in the parliament. First we should solve our internal problems. Unity can change everything. We believe in freedom and not in foreign powers. I know that every Afghani is a social engineer who wants peace in the country. Afghanistan will definitely bounce back from its difficulties.
In the end I thanked General for taking out time for me. It was a great experience talking to someone who is with the Government. Unfortunately, I am not supposed to reveal all the facts which I got from General. Some of the things which he told me are highly confidential and can put him to trouble. As he rightly said, “Its Afghanistan, nobody is spared here!”Spiritus International Trust‘ wherein we are working on areas like Education, Health, Legal awareness to general public etc.Â I have always wanted to work in the area of Human Rights. Grave violation of Human Rights and Conflict are the reasons behind my interest in Afghanistan.Â To read her other posts, click here.[/box]