I am repeating two articles published in the Toronto Star March 7, 2012. How many of you are really surprised by these developments? The Americans put Karzai in power. How many Middle East leaders backed by the CIA over the years have turned on their benefactors, including Bin Laden? There is a movement in the States that decries western interference in Middle East affairs, but the West (NATO) risks our military force‘s lives to maintain access to oil, not to give the local people a better life. Our troops fighting there come into contact with the people and bond with their plight and innocence. Our “boots on the ground” want to make a difference but the political powers behind these invasion decisions are not motivated by humanitarian need. It’s always been about oil. My heart aches for our troops and veterans who fought so hard to free the Afghan people, especially women and children, from insufferable conditions and treatment. Now their sacrifice is thrown back in their faces. The public will not forget and the prime minister will face an uprising if he sends our troops into harm’s way again under similar circumstances. BONNIE
STORY ONE: Afghanistan’s ‘code of conduct’ casts shadow over progress for womenPublished On Wed March 7, 2012 TORONTO STAR
Afghanistan may still be a violent mess but Afghan women can breathe today without having to answer to cruelly sexist Taliban overlords. They can run for parliament, vote, work and study. Legally at least they are equal to men. They have emerged from a great darkness. But for how long?
President Hamid Karzai, anxious to reach out to the Taliban and conservatives before American and allied troops leave, has just signalled his support for a benighted “code of conduct” drawn up by Muslim clerics that challenges the gains women have made. Rights activists fear it may “re-Talibanize” the nation. It is a depressing development, as we mark International Women’s Day on Thursday.
The code, posted on Karzai’s presidential website, is presented as a set of guidelines that pious Muslim women are invited to embrace voluntarily. It flatly states that men are “fundamental,” and women are “secondary.” It demands women wear the hijab. It counsels women to “avoid mingling” with men at the office, in school, shopping and in other areas of life. It tells them to travel only with a male chaperone. And provided there is a “sharia-compliant reason,” it endorses beating women. It is an affront to Afghanistan’s relatively new constitutional protections for the equality of women and men.
“The future of women’s rights in Afghanistan is more unpredictable than at any stage over the last 10 years,” warns the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization. “Important achievements… are likely to be reversed.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has been quick to voice “serious concern” over this grim development, and so should our allies. Canada has committed $2 billion in aid, some of it for girls’ schooling. Harper should advise Karzai, in the bluntest way possible, that the Canadian public will balk at supporting a regime that winks at turning back the clock to a time before women could aspire to be politicians, judges, lawyers, merchants, rights activists, police and soldiers.
The constitution is clear: “The citizens of Afghanistan, man or woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.” What part of equality involves men beating women? And how can a modern president condone such brutality, no matter how patriarchal, ignorant and discriminatory some of his citizenry may be?
Is Karzai prepared to sacrifice Afghan women to placate the vilest elements of society? If so, Canadians will want no part of it.
STORY TWO: Afghan president endorses clerics’ code that downgrades women’s rights
On the eve of International Women’s Day, President Hamid Karzai has given Afghan women an unwelcome present: the message that they are second-class citizens.
In remarks made Tuesday, Karzai backed a “code of conduct” written by the Ulema Council of 150 leading Muslim clerics. It could dramatically restrict women’s daily lives and threaten a return to the dark days of Taliban rule.
“Men are fundamental and women are secondary,” the council said in its statement released last week, and later published on Karzai’s own website.
The move appears aimed at enticing the Taliban into the peace process — but also gives pause to Canada and other countries that have supported efforts to advance women’s rights in the land they fought to take back from the extremists.
“These reports are of serious concern to Canada,” said a statement from Joseph Lavoie, press secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. “We call on the Government of Afghanistan to uphold the provisions of Afghanistan’s constitution, which establishes equal rights for men and women, and to respect its obligations under international law.”
Since 2002, 158 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan.
The Ulema Council’s code is part of a general framework for political issues. It was described as “voluntary” for women who are devout, and not legally binding.
It says women should not travel without a male guardian or mingle with men in public places such as schools, offices or markets. It also allows wife-beating in the case of a “sharia-compliant” reason, although it rejects forced marriage and the bartering of women to settle disputes.
In Kabul, Karzai said that the council had not put “any limitations” on women, and that it was only stating “the sharia law of all Muslims and all Afghans.” But some Muslim scholars have disputed the clerics’ strict interpretation.
“We want the correct Islam, not the Islam of politics,” activist Fatana Ishaq Gailani, a founder of the Afghanistan Women’s Council, told reporters in Kabul.
Before the 2001 invasion, Afghan women were confined to their homes and forced to wear burkas. Girls were not allowed to go to school, and females could not get medical attention from male doctors.
Since then women have made large strides, returning to work and school, starting businesses and taking part in the political process. But their lives are frequently at risk, and have become more difficult as security has frayed in recent months.
“Sixty-five per cent of the population is under the age of 25, and young women are not prepared to take it any more,” says Toronto author and journalist Sally Armstrong, who has written on Afghan women’s rights. “They are brave, and they march in the street. The message is ‘Karzai must go.’”
Karzai has been backtracking on women’s rights in recent years, as Western countries began to roll up their military operations. By 2014, most will have left the country, although they have pledged to continue support for its development.
“Karzai is between a rock and a hard place,” says Mark Sedra, an adjunct lecturer at University of Waterloo who studies Afghanistan. “He doesn’t want to end up like (Soviet-backed president Mohammad) Najibullah, who was left hanging from a lamp post,” years after the Soviet troops withdrew.
Other factions besides the Taliban are deeply conservative, Sedra added, and Karzai needs their support.
“It makes political sense to him to make these statements. He may be ridiculed in the West, but his position is tenuous now.”
That bodes ill for women, who will also have a harder struggle if Islamist factions gain ground.
“They will continue protesting,” said Armstrong. “They are raped, killed for producing girl children, beaten and harassed. They don’t have anything to lose.”