The CBC recently featured a story about Afghanistan’s new oppressive legislation. These new laws will allow the Shia minority to impose some very strict prohibitions on women in their communities. These laws clearly contravene international standards on human rights. In a nutshell, this legislation would make it illegal for women to refuse sex to their husbands, leave their homes without permission, or have custody of their children.
Canadian politicians are not surprisingly outraged at this turn of events. The war in Afghanistan was sold to Canadians, and the world at large, as a way to destroy the terrorists and liberate the oppressed women of Afghanistan. There was much talk of the backwardness of “the burkha” and the progressive changes that would allow young girls to once again attend school. It remains to be seen if our political leaders outrage will lead to any action or if instead they will simply prop up a new government, which is very similar to the oppressive regime that came before.
I don’t want to play down the issue itself as I agree it is a truly sad state of affairs. I hope the world speaks out and is able to influence the Karzai government to take a different path. I think, however, it is also worth noting that these laws are actually emerging from a democracy. The Shia group is a critical “swing block” of voters that is operating within the system to make their opinions heard. The Taliban Government, which was vilified so adamantly by the West might have been providing a government that many of the people (granted the women didn’t have much of a voice) wanted. If a democracy is now replicating the negative side of a former oppressive government then it seems it is impossible to change a culture by changing its system of government.
The reality is that, the war was fought solely because Osama turned from murdering the Soviets (an act supported and funded by the USA) to murdering Americans. The liberation of Afghani women was always a red herring to garner public support. This I fear will be seen in the lack of concrete actions taken by the Canadian and International governments in the coming weeks. I hope I’m wrong.
Given that these acts by the Afghan government are truly against human rights standards, what responsibility do foreign nations have then to make sure they are not passed? While admittedly harmful, is it even possible to change any of these deeply rooted cultural practices from the outside? Clearly changing a government system is not enough.