Written By: Hashmatullah Hotak

Date: 13th March 2019

Cheryl Bernard article recently published on Feb 27th, 2019 in The National Interest created huge distress and fuss among the so-called feminism flag-bearer groups of Afghanistan. When you read the article, you wish that a native Afghan woman had the determination to write and message what she has done. Therefore, first and foremost she shall be applauded for her bold and courageous move of writing this eye-opener op-ed.  She deserves kudos for touching upon such critical issue despite the expected backlash of feminists’ cartel which Mrs. Cheryl Bernard has been evidently going through after her publication. In her article she has undoubtedly set the record straight on most key issues; however, some aspects of her article require clarification. Therefore, this article attempts to add insight into the vague sections.

Direction for Afghan Women

Mrs. Bernard in her article suggests a direction for Afghan women on how to fight for their rights. The path she has been suggesting is very logical and she has challenged Afghan feminists that “Rights Are Not Given, They Are Taken”, perhaps a paraphrased version of a famous saying by Aldous Huxley that “Liberties Are Not Given, They Are Taken”. She informs of the struggles western women had to make for the rights that they relish today. Furthermore, she has encouraged Afghan feminists to enroot themselves in the rural areas by engaging with rural women that suffer adversaries more than the urban women rather than confining themselves to social media outlets and Kabul based seminars held in fancy restaurants or western media outlets.

She has rightly stated that post-2001; the United States channeled immense resources i.e. monetary and political etc. to empower Afghan women as much as possible. The United States with all its good intentions may have definitely erred in some of its approaches, but it is incumbent upon women beneficiaries of such support efforts to launch women rights campaign and inform rural women of their rights and how to obtain them keeping in mind all the meaningful norms and values of Afghan society.

She explains that the United States did its best to protect women rights and as an example among others, the United States supported the 27% quota system for women in parliament representation. Henceforth, it’s the duty of every women member of parliament to effectively represent women and strive for women rights. Unfortunately, it has been obvious that hardly ever has any woman representative sincerely worked or even visited in months her constituency let alone women rights. This is a fact and if she is criticizing, then, the so-called feminists create social media polemics.

The twitter attacks by feminists’ cartels on Mrs. Bernard were nothing but the diversion of the issues and blaming Mrs. Bernard for providing misguiding facts on women rights in Afghanistan. For the sake of argument even if one agrees with the tweets, there is no sign that Mrs. Bernard is in denial of women rights in Afghanistan prior to US arrival in 2001. If so, then a reminder to her as well that under Queen Suraya’s watch in 1919; Afghanistan drafted its first constitution that granted Afghan women the right to vote which was unprecedented and had it been implemented, the Afghan women would have bettered American and European countries in allowing women the right to vote, but the process was undermined by the proxies of King Amanullah Khan’s adversaries.

Likewise, her 1950s and 1960s reminisce of women rights in Afghanistan contradicts her own argument that it took women hundreds of years of struggle in the west to achieve the rights that they cherish today. If the 1950s/60s modals of women rights and efforts did not reach the bulk of the core Afghan society not because they were only deemed externally superimposed diorama, but also due to the lack of durable efforts originating from unstable political dynamics, internal coups and foreign intrusions. Since she believes that Afghan women have been as able as their western counterparts, then, Afghan women need to be given some time relief to intensify their rural endeavors on women rights and most importantly the United States shall afterward ensure that all its efforts with regard to women empowerment are properly channeled and reliance on feminist-cartels is definitely averted in its future programs.

Afghan Culture and Democracy

Afghanistan has been observing socialist democracy for centuries if not this new version of western democracy. Some Afghan traditions and cultures certainly contradict aspects of democratic values; be it socialist or western democracy. There is no denial to the fact that Afghan women have suffered due to bad Afghan traditions and cultures as stated by Mrs. Bernard for example “The Pashtun Code of Honor”, which I would term as “The Afghan Code of Honor” because it has been common in all major ethnic groups living in Afghanistan. Mrs. Bernard shall be admired for bringing up this topic and inviting Afghan feminist to fight for the rights of their Afghan female counterparts suffering from these worst norms and start their struggle at the grass root level. Because women are the key to vanishing any bad traditions and cultures/norms and it has been well supported by the common saying that “behind every successful man there is a woman”.

Since these bad traditions have been prevailing for decades if not centuries and like any process, it requires time to be eliminated. Afghan feminists whether women or men shall ensure that they will fight these phenomena and should not wait for or rely on external support forever, which Mrs. Bernard has plainly and rightly pinpointed in her Op-ed.

Taliban and Islam

Mrs. Bernard urges that Afghan feminist shall confront and engage with Taliban and present their cases. Likewise, she suggests that the Taliban declaration of Moscow was a positive sign for woman rights. In terms of engagement, she has put forward an outstanding suggestion and there is no doubt that dialogue is the best path to understanding one another than guns and shedding blood; however, what Taliban says and what they have done is contradictory. Taliban is not Islam and Islam is not the Taliban. There is no doubt that the Taliban’s influence can be better ushered in the eradication of so-called Afghan code of honor etc. However, what the feminists are worried about and pressurizing for international support is perhaps not because they may not know about their Islamic rights, but the past deeds of the Taliban. Feminists worries can be well supported by the famous Danish saying that, “He who has been bitten by a snake is afraid of an eel”. Therefore, thoroughness of international support in channelization and setting the tone between feminists and Taliban become quintessential for any hopeful and bright prospects of women rights in Afghanistan.

The Conclusion

The Afghan feminist can no longer live in denial and blame others for all the mischievousness suffered by Afghan women. Bad traditions and cultures do exist for centuries. If Afghan women wish to have a strong voice and cherish their Islamic, Afghan and democratic rights, they had better take tough decisions and welcome all the criticism with open arms. Mrs. Bernard has excellently put the ball in the court of Afghan feminist that “Afghan Women are In Charge of Their Own Fate”. In order to not give anyone else the same opportunity to remind the Afghan women/feminists of their failures and in-competencies in achieving their rights, they shall see Mrs. Bernard article as a first and last reproach for themselves. Afghan feminists have the greatest opportunity to make history and show maturity, grit, and determination by proving all odds wrong instead of whining like Afghans have generally done it throughout their history.

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