I am, dear readers, obviously a pretty big fan of gender equality. I’ll be the first to admit a division of labor can be useful (I will take care of a spider in the house, but if a boy is around, he’d better volunteer to do so first), but in the world of employment, I am every bit as competent and capable as my male peers and deserve to be treated fairly.
However, I am also a proponent of the idea that you can’t force women’s lib down other culture’s throats, as much as I might like to sometimes. Equality has grown here because women stood up and demanded it. In Afghanistan, especially in the Pashtun areas, most women weren’t ready to take that step yet. Which is funny, because in the past, Afghan women worked as doctors and lawyers and made up the majority of schoolteachers. In Iraq, there was less recent repression of women, so they get out and do more, but it can still be hazardous to their well-being.
In my opinion then, a lot of the “women’s engagement” initiatives that the U.S. and other foreign countries conduct that look so good on reports and evaluations are largely a waste of time. Women themselves aren’t ready or interested in starting small businesses or having their own councils and representation, and I think we need to wait for them to ask us for help instead of forcing the issue.
All that being said, when I read this article the other day, it made me downright furious.
For those who don’t want to read it, it basically says that female police officers in Afghanistan are routinely sexually abused by their male counterparts or, if they’re too old, forced to find and bring in prostitutes for them. Wow. Just, wow.
In both Afghanistan and Iraq, where they undoubtedly experience the same thing, many women in the police force work away from home or never tell their families what they are ashamed of it. Many of these women have lost husbands and fathers and have no choice but to find a way to make a living in a world with very few jobs for women—especially uneducated ones. Joining the police is one option and at first seems to be one of the safest ones.
But others join up because they believe in it. They proudly march in parades and show their faces to the world. These are the women who are ready for equality and would be willing to fight for it.
But whether they come to it through necessity or idealism, many have their hopes and dreams destroyed by the very people who are supposed to provide protection and security. And these women have no one to turn to aside from the occasional Western journalist who can’t really do a whole lot. If they tried to report it, they would likely get beaten, further abused, and/or fired.
In some ways, I always felt like my tromping around with soldiers while carrying a gun showed local women and girls that they too could grow up to be as tough and successful as the men around them. I even had a couple fathers introduce me to their daughters because they wanted them to see the possibilities of what they could do and be. It was an inspiring idea, to at least passively let them see that gender equality can be a reality. Or so it seemed.
But now the thought of what may happen if they try, that it may cause girls more harm than good to pursue such grand dreams, is one that haunts me.