Bibi Aisha is a young Afghan woman who had her nose and ears sliced off because of the Taliban leadership. She ran away from abusive in-laws that beat her and this was her punishment. She was left to die, but survived to tell her story to the world, which was published in a Time magazine in an article entitled “Betrayed.”
Aisha was lucky. She found a support group, underwent reconstructive surgery, and was able relocate to the United States with a new family. Unfortunately, the trauma she suffered through is not unique to her story.
Maltreatment of Muslim women around the world is an ongoing problem and is at the root of Middle East terrorism. Men have power over women and children in traditional Muslim societies that adhere to Sharia Law and do not want the balance of power to change. They have kept the power through physical, emotional, and verbal violence against their women and children.
Children see the power structure and accept it as they grow up and as a result are prone to radicalization because they accept this as the norm and because violence at home interferes with attachment to the mother which interrupts the development of empathy for others. It is an intergenerational problem that will only stop when Middle Eastern women have freedom from brutality at the hands of family members.
The constitution of Afghanistan now guarantees equal rights for women and it is said that this is non-negotiable. However, the constitution also cannot contradict Islamic Sharia Law, which is yet to be defined in the constitution. The Taliban has one of the most restrictive interpretations of Islamic law. There are fears that with sufficient votes, the laws and practices will return to Taliban restrictions when the U.S. leaves Afghanistan and the Taliban eventually joins the coalition government.
As recently as May of 2013 Afghanistan’s legislature was discussing whether the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law, was contrary to Sharia Law and thus unconstitutional (Townsend, 2013).
Timereported that the religious council of Herat province issued an edict in May 2013 forbidding women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. Taliban law forbids the education or employment of women or examination by a male doctor without the presence of a close male relative. Women were previously teachers and nurses, but as a result of the Taliban influence these professions have dramatically decreased in numbers. This has caused the physical, mental, and intellectual health of women to deteriorate under Taliban rule.
The organization, “Women for Afghan Women,” has shelters and counselling centres in Afghanistan for abused women. The Taliban wants them declared as brothels and eliminated. Their fate is in questionable hands if the U.S. removes all troops from Afghanistan. There are 15 million women in Afghanistan and some have already started adhering to the Taliban beliefs, fearing the influence of the Taliban on a coalition government when the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is complete.
When the withdrawal is complete this may lead to an increase in violence against women in the region and to the further restricting of women’s rights, which in this day and age is unacceptable. We need an open international dialogue so that we can put safe-guards in place to prevent this from happening. We cannot sit idly by when we hear these stories! International pressure has had some success in the past, halting the stoning of young women. If we stand together, we can put an end to commonplace violence and harassment of Middle Eastern women and begin to change the culture into a healthier environment.
Written by: Dr Kathy Seifert
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–Dr. Kathy Seifert