THE FACT OF THE MATTER
THE social theorist Simone de Beauvoir said: “Never forget that it only takes a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question. These rights can never be taken for granted. You must remain vigilant throughout your life.”
Mullah Baradar, leader of the Taliban, said: “We seek an Afghanistan with an Islamic system in which all people of the nation can participate without discrimination”.
All people? There is deep international scepticism about what this will mean in practice. Sentiment comes easy, few leopards ever change their spots. The fundamentalist Taliban’s record has been chillingly horrifying — in particular how their Shariah laws equate with women’s rights, with the rights of girls.
One of the urgent questions raised by the return of the Taliban to power is whether the radical Islamists will again impose draconian restrictions — and it’s looking increasingly likely — on Afghan women and girls, as evidenced in Afghanistan once upon a time and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia now.
No social or economic independence for women. No freedom in public. No schooling for girls. No opportunity.
Let’s consider this. A number of verses in the Koran say that men and women “were created from the same essence”. Some also state that men are ‘qawwamun’ in relation to women. The meaning of this term is often debated.
It has been interpreted to mean “protectors and maintainers” but also understood by some to connote the superiority of men over women. The same verse goes on to say devout women are “obedient” and that, if they persistently disobey, their male protectors, as a last resort, should “strike” or “beat” them.
Shariah law established that women have legal and financial rights, as well as the right to inherit. However, the Koran specifies that a sister inherits half of her brother’s amount. The Koran also states that a woman should not “reveal her beauty” to men beyond her family. Many Islamic jurists have ruled that this requires women to cover their hair and others their face.
The Koran was written back in the 7th Century when women in then Arabia, like the rest of the known world, had few, if any, rights. Mind you, Mohammed’s wife was a reputable businesswoman. The potential fear here, however, is that the Taliban has not changed its ways, despite words to the contrary, and that women and girls will suffer under their rigid interpretation of Shariah law.
No schooling for girls conjures up a vision of a future dystopian generation of lost women, chilling echoes of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
We should all remember Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012. Her crime? She campaigned for the right of girls to attend school. She survived, miraculously, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two years later and graduated from Oxford in June last year. She has since devoted her life advocating for girls’ education.
But (potentially) Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are not the only regimes where young girls are denied such a basic human right — protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Globally, there are 132 million girls out of school. Threats to girls’ education — poverty, war and, specifically, gender discrimination — differ between cultures.
In Pakistan, many drop out after primary school because parents believe it is “a waste of money to send a daughter to secondary school”. In Nigeria, expensive school fees put girls’ education, and futures, at risk. For tens of thousands of girls from Syria, Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan in refugee camps schooling is not on the daily agenda.
Unicef says only 49% of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education. One in three adolescent girls from the poorest households around the world has never been to school.
Consider this: *Girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children. More than 41,000 girls under the age of 18 marry every single day.
*Educated mothers are twice as likely to send their children to school.
*A child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five.
Seems, we’ve still a lot to learn…
* Copyright. First published in Meath Chronicle