TAJIK HOPE REFLECTIONS ON ENGAGING WOMEN IN KAPISA PROVINCE BY NAHEED VADSARIA
A Special Book Edition by
Copyright ÂŠ by Naheed Vadsaria Editors: Whitney Grespin and Ana C. Rold. Copyeditor: Kathryn Floyd and Hannah Olivieri. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. First Published March 2016. Published in the United States by Medauras Global and Diplomatic Courier. 1660 L Street, NW, Suite 501, Washington, D.C., 20036 www.medauras.com www.diplomaticourier.com Notice: No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except brief excerpts for the purpose of review, without written consent from the publisher and author. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of information in this publication; however, the author, Diplomatic Courier and Medauras Global make no warranties, express or implied, in regards to the information and disclaim all liability for any loss, damages, 2 errors, or omissions. For permissions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
TAJIK HOPE REFLECTIONS ON ENGAGING WOMEN IN KAPISA PROVINCE BY NAHEED VADSARIA
MEDAURAS GLOBAL PUBLISHING
'HER' ROLES, RESPONSIBILITIES, AND RIGHTS
THE WOMEN'S SHURA CONNECTION
COALITION PARTNERS AND HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE
THE PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION TEAM AND WOMEN'S SHURA
A WILLFUL ACT
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
espite over a decade of calls for women’s empowerment in postTaliban Afghanistan (and massive international investments in causes for the same), the vast majority of females across the country have not yet become active players in sociopolitical movements on any notable scale. This lack of tangible progress is disappointing to the western coalition and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), and is antithetical to teachings of the Quran identified by the author. Written by a sociological researcher working in support of international Coalition Forces, these vignettes illuminate subtleties of the nuanced hierarchies that direct life at the level of the Afghan village. This collection of linked case studies illustrates the applied bias that many westerners, including experienced sociological practitioners, have commonly held in their initial approaches to Afghan issues over the past decade. Specifically, these studies provide insight to social contracts of ethnic Tajik women and their communities, which make up the country’s second largest ethnic group. The issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan has historically been an incendiary topic, with cases few and far between garnering public attention. Those that do become topics of conversation tend to do so through media campaigns that do not always provide comprehensive context of the circumstances. Although cases of gender based violence are widespread and underreported, there is a shifting balance in statistics that reflect the quality of life that more Afghan women feel that might reasonably expect in the future, as well as a recognition of the skills necessary to achieve an improved standard of living. A comprehensive 2012 opinion survey by the Asia Foundation states that nearly one third of respondents identified lack of education and/or illiteracy as the biggest problem faced by women, followed by a lack of job opportunities. Somewhat surprisingly, less than ten percent identified either a lack of women’s rights or domestic violence as the biggest 1
obstacle. This being said, it is useful to remember that it is not necessarily realistic–or appropriate–to expect that the people of Afghanistan will embrace women’s rights and suffrage to western standards in as little as twelve years since western intervention and the ousting of the Taliban. As demonstrated in these case studies, Afghan women require the support of their men as well as the continued backing of the international community to cement their roles as stakeholders in transitional governance processes and broader development initiatives. It is necessary to have male support for even the most basic efforts. This includes instances in which convening a meeting requires the provision of a male family member to chaperone a woman outside of her home, even if only a child. In these circumstances, men must act as the voice of logic and lead by example in allowing their female relatives to participate in the new Afghan civil society, as primary decision making power still resides with the male head of the house. There must be vocal support and calls for female participation in public life in Afghanistan, as in the case of former Governor of Bamyan, Dr. Habiba Sarobi, or lone female Afghan Presidential nominee Khadija Ghaznawi. Although women still face substantial obstacles to achieving a public voice and freedom by western standards, great strides have been made towards improving equality through access to educational opportunities and vocational training programs. Small-scale economic participation by women has grown in the last decade, giving women more legitimacy and power within their homes and local communities. While the surge in training programs specifically designed for women has been instrumental, it is also important that international donors and Coalition Forces transition from treating women as a special interest group, and instead simply provide them with equal opportunities. As the majority of international forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in the next 18 months, many humanitarian organizations are preparing departures along the same lines. The frameworks which are left behind for women’s empowerment must be seen as standard and expected, not special exceptions or entitlements. As the author of this selection ponders at the end of her deployment to Afghanistan, sometimes it is impossible to know what knowledge is lacking before beginning operations in certain areas. These are Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns.” It is with these variables in mind that Coalition Forces should continue to reach out to the women of Afghanistan, who make up more than 50% of the population after decades of warfare that whittled away at the male population, in an effort to develop an informed point of view to direct future assistive efforts. Washington, DC March 2016 2
his eBook includes a series of case studies that can be used to broaden the lens of Coalition Forces’ (CF) perceptions and widen Western audiences’ understanding of how women in Afghanistan might be understood and engaged. Although most of interviews herein were conducted with ethnic Tajik women, this paper is intended to serve as a sociocultural awareness tool to assist CF in understanding how they can respectfully interact with Afghan women, including key female leaders and Womens’ Shuras. The first case study details what CFs can expect when speaking to Tajik Afghan Women, while providing some degree of information on Tajik Afghan women’s rights in obtaining a divorce, as well as their roles and responsibilities within the household. The second case study discusses how enablers can identify and link up with Women’s Shuras to learn more about their mission, objectives, and professional backgrounds. The third case study emphasizes the importance of CFs building consistent working relationships with key leaders, which can lead to invitations to fruitful women’s events that can develop CFs understanding of how Afghans perceive women. The study continues to explain the “second and third” order effects of distributing Humanitarian Aid (HA) at these events. The fourth case study expands on the background of a Women’s Shura and illustrates issues and matters important to members. The final case study gives a random glimpse of how women can behave in public, negating the “stereotypical” image of submissive Tajik Afghan women as is often perpetrated in western media. Finally, the document provides key conclusions drawn from the above case studies. Throughout these case studies are Holy Qur’anic Surahs and Hadiths, which support Afghan women’s rights in accordance with Islam. *** The mission of the Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS) is to fill gaps in sociocultural knowledge within the Brigade or Division Commander’s 3
Common Operating Picture (COP), which allows Brigade or Division Commanders to understand key infrastructure, stakeholders, and position of military troops and adversaries. This information expands the knowledge base and frame of reference in which courses of action and subsequent orders are being developed. The intent is to simultaneously widen and deepen the Commander and his or her staff’s knowledge of the area of operations (AO) in ways that can augment and identify feasible courses of action that are available options to address or mitigate complex emerging problems. More nuanced awareness of cultural dimensions within a community may help to refine and focus the goals of planned operations and can provide less aggressive approaches to problem resolution that might not have been previously evident without detailed cultural knowledge. Supporting Coalition forces in Afghanistan for just such purposes, I worked as a Social Scientist for a Human Terrain Team (HTT) in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan from June 2010 to June 2011, during which time I conducted sociocultural research for units our team supported, such as French Command Task Force LaFayette (TFLF) and United States’ Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). The analysis derived from this research was used by TFLF and the PRT to understand Coalition surroundings, challenges, and advantages within their AO. While I was working in Kapisa Province, the PRT became interested in understanding Afghan females’ perspectives and concerns regarding economic, development, governance, and security issues. In Afghanistan, women constitute approximately 49 percent of the population, yet were not fully engaged by Coalition Forces (CF) in the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. In an attempt to understand Afghan women, CF decided to engage with them to the greatest extent possible. Of course, not all women in Afghanistan can be engaged due to security and cultural restrictions. But the ones that were engaged provided CFs with the knowledge needed to understand Afghanistan’s socio-cultural environment. Predictably, there has been resistance among CF to interact with women due to cultural norms. In many areas of Afghanistan, foreign men are forbidden from approaching Afghan women and are not permitted to build even platonic working relationships with women. As a result, ad hoc Female Engagement Teams (FETs) were developed and used by the United States Military to interact and work with local Afghan women prior to August 2011. As a working definition, FETs are “Command selected female Soldiers trained and tasked to support the brigade and battalions’ Lines of Effort (LOE) through culturally appropriate engagements with the host nation population, primarily local females, throughout the Operational Environment (OE) to achieve counterinsurgency (COIN) objectives.” Since the inception of ad hoc Army FETs in 2010 and Marine FETs in 2009, CF have been able to engage in dialogue about the positive and negative dynamics of CF actions throughout the AO through the eyes of Afghan women.
Learning about and working with Afghan women became the focal point for the HTT and PRT in Kapisa Province. On a personal level, as a Social Scientist and Muslim woman raised and educated in the western world, I was extremely interested in learning more about Afghan women’s (and specifically Tajik Muslim females’) societal roles, responsibilities, and obligations in Nijrab District, located in northern areas of Kapisa Province, based on Qu’ranic Surahs and Hadiths. The Tajik ethnicity is the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, constituting 27.0% to 38.1% of the population, but is the majority in Kapisa Province, thus making the group accessible as the primary target demographic in this research. The Pashtuns make up the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, comprising of 42%. The question our team set out to answer in the hope of providing our supported unit with a more comprehensive understanding of the culture in its area of operations was, “Were the Tajik women actually treated adversely by their male relatives and village elders, as so widely believed in the western world, or were the rights accorded to women in the Holy Qur’an actually provided for and honored by men primarily practicing the Hanafi school of Islamic Jurisprudence in Afghan Muslim society in the area?” To answer these questions, my HTT collaborated with Kapisa’s Provincial Reconstruction Team-Female Engagement Team (PRT-FET) to reach out to local Afghan women who were of primarily Tajik descent. I served as the liaison between the Bazaar Badakhshi’s Women’s Shura located in Nijrab District, TFLF, and the PRT-FET. This enabled me to communicate any issues these women were experiencing in their communities, regarding education and health issues to CF. Unfortunately, due to the non-permissive nature of free movement for research purposes within Kapisa, access to the target demographic of Tajik women was limited. Security forces always accompanied HTS team members collecting observations in order to provide for our safety, though these security constraints did limit the time available to interview women in the field. These security restrictions, coupled with the sensitive nature of interviewing women, meant that I was unable to interview less than half of Tajik women in Nijrab district. This research was corroborated by interactions I had with women throughout my deployment. Therefore, my observations pertain to my research gathering only and should not be applied to all Tajik women’s circumstances across Afghanistan. To learn about Tajik women’s roles in Afghanistan, our HTT initiated groundwork by speaking with important female key leaders, Women’s Shuras (a consultation and arbitration group), and local Afghan women to collect their impressions. In Afghan culture, it is important to build strong relationships with those being consulted in order to obtain accurate and, hopefully, genuine answers. Conducting spontaneous surveys or semi-
structured interviews of random Afghans on the streets will generate artificial and superficial answers. Generalized observations are always tenuous and it was our experience that the Afghans with whom we had not established rapport previous to the interview often told interviewers what they thought the interviewer wanted to know, rather than candidly expressing the truth. However, the greater familiarity and consistent interaction we had with Afghans over time resulted in the conveyance of what we believed were more truthful and genuine responses from the interviewees. Therefore, it was our observation that a heightened level of trust is necessary between foreigners and Afghans for interviewing to be successful and that the level of trust is based on a sincere commitment to rapport building on behalf of the researcher and/or interviewer.
“HER” ROLES, RESPONSIBILITIES, AND RIGHTS
he following case study focuses on two main issues: a Tajik woman’s opinions and attitudes regarding her roles and responsibilities in the household (including the influence they feel they wield in their children’s personal and professional development) and the Qur’anic rights accorded to Muslim women regarding divorce. Accompanying each issue and findings are Qur’anic Surahs and Hadiths (“[Accounts of Prophet Mohammad’s] traceable to his contemporaries or immediate descendants.”) that justify and validate the actions of these women under the authority of Islam. The team first interviewed the wife of a member of the Afghan Social Outreach Program (ASOP, also known as Shura Mahali). ASOP Shura members and our team had developed a productive and apparently mutually respectful relationship with one another through repeated interactions. Once comfortable with the relationship, the HTT asked one ASOP Shura member if we could speak with his wife. It is customary in Afghan culture for foreigners, whether male or female, to ask permission of the male authority figure in a village or family. This authority figure can be the village leader, father, brother, son, or even nephew, before interviewing their female relatives or women residing in their villages. The shura member granted permission, and the team scheduled an interview with his wife. On the day of the interview, the shura member’s wife, wearing a blue burka, was escorted by her nephew to the Forward Operating Base (FOB). It is obligatory under sharia law that women be chaperoned by a male relative in order to safeguard them from criminal activity and to preserve 7
their honor within their family and community. Unlike their female counterparts living in urban centers, women living in the provinces rarely travel outside their homes alone. Upon arrival, the nephew and shura member’s wife were taken to a conference room inside the FOB. As was customary in all official meetings a plate of assorted nuts was placed in the center of the table for the group, along with green tea and water. Before the interview started, the wife lifted the pleated blue garment that covered her face. She looked older than her stated years–a reflection of how quickly women age because of the adversity and hardships they face in provincial areas of Afghanistan. The woman appeared petite, fragile, timid, and submissive, and she spoke softly. The nephew’s role was to passively oversee the interview and at times dictate her response by answering for her. My female Human Terrain Analyst and I started the interview. During the interview it was noted that, at times, when a question was asked, the wife would look at her nephew for approval before answering the question. Despite her nephew’s supervision, it appeared she answered most of our questions honestly, giving us the information we sought in order to understand her roles in the household, while also addressing controversial issues such as divorce. We learned that she was in charge of household management and delegated chores to her children around the house, such as cooking, cleaning, farming, or taking care of the children. She was the major disciplinarian of her sons and daughters, both in matters inside and outside (ex: schooling) the household. She directed both the personal and professional lives of her sons and daughters, such as deciding whom they would marry in the future. In the children’s professional lives, she influenced her sons and daughters on choosing their career paths. An issue that was explored during our conversation was the right women have to divorce their husbands through the formal and informal justice system in Nijrab District, Kapisa Province. According to the shura member’s wife, Tajik women may get divorces if they feel their husbands are ill-treating them in accordance with the guidance of the Holy Qur’an. The shura member’s wife stated she had a close relative who successfully obtained a divorce. The team found it eye opening to learn about the roles and responsibilities practiced in this woman’s household and about Afghan women’s right to divorce. We wanted to understand these matters more thoroughly. To this end, the HTT decided to seek the male’s perspective on women’s roles and responsibilities in the household and the issue of divorce. The authority some women may exercise in their households became evident during a conversation I had with one of my two male interpreters, 8
a Tajik from Kabul. Our team had formed a genuine friendship with our interpreter and, as a result, he felt comfortable speaking with us about his family. According to him, sons have to venerate and obey the directives of their mothers in Afghan culture, whether it is choosing whom their sons and daughters marry or which profession is acceptable for them to practice. He emphasized that in his eyes the bond between mothers and sons is undeniably strong and most often children revere their mothers. A Human Terrain System’s Social Science Research and Analysis (SSRA) report entitled Women in the Home and Community supports this finding. The report indicated that: “Respondents in most regions of Afghanistan said that women have influence in the home mainly over areas of childrearing and maintaining the home, family health, and cooking. Respondents in Regional Command Capital (RC [C]) said that women also had significant influence in economic matters. In the other regions, few respondents mentioned control over economic issues as a major area of women’s influence in the home. Women appear to have greater influence in the home when they are more educated.” The Holy Qur’anic Surah 31:14 Luqman, supports the SSRA report and discusses the importance of children obeying and respecting their parents: “And we have enjoined on man (To be good) to his parents: In travail upon travel Did his mother bear him, And in years twain Was his weaning: (hear The command), ‘Show gratitude To Me and to thy parents; To Me is (thy final) Goal.” According to Islamic Scholar Mawlana Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the above Surah can simply be translated into: “We must be good to mankind, beginning with our own parents.”
The Hadiths below further support this Qur’anic Surah and roles and responsibilities practiced by this individual. They explain that the obligation of a child to respect and obey his/her mother will in turn facilitate the path to paradise. “I know of no other deed that brings people closer to Allah than kind treatment and respect towards one's mother.” [Al-Adab al-Mufrad Bukhârî 1/45] “A man came to the Prophet and said: O Messenger of Allah! Who from amongst mankind warrants the best companionship from me? He replied: "Your mother." The man asked: Then who? So he replied: "Your mother." The man then asked: Then who? So the Prophet replied again: "Your mother." The man then asked: Then who? So he replied: "Then your father." [Sahîh Bukhârî 5971 and Sahîh Muslim 7/2] “Paradise lies at the feet of your mother.” [Musnad Ahmad, Sunan An-Nasâ’i, Sunan Ibn Mâjah] Regarding divorce, as mentioned by the ASOP Shura’s wife, the rise in divorces in Afghanistan’s Nijrab District was repeated by a few ASOP shura members, particularly the Chairman of the ASOP shura’s Security Committee, a passionate and blunt individual. During a conversation we had with the Chairman, he relayed that a woman from his village was abused by her husband. She divorced him, moved back with her family, and eventually relocated to Kabul to search for a new job and future. More and more women are divorcing their husbands because of domestic violence. Obtaining a divorce is a right given to women in accordance with the Holy Qur’anic Surah 4:128 Al Nisa. The Surah states: “If a wife fears Cruelty or desertion On her husband’s part, There is no blame on them If they arrange An amicable settlement Between themselves; And such settlement is best.” 10
Islamic scholar Mawlana Abdullah Yusuf Ali interprets this as: “... the sanctity of marriage itself is greater than any economic interests. Divorce is, all things permitted, most hateful to Allah. Therefore, if a breach between husband and wife can be prevented by some economic consideration, it is better to make that concession than to imperil the future of the wife, the children, and probably the husband also.” Nonetheless, the following quoted from a Hadith notes that a woman being ill-treated is not a requirement for divorce. “The wife can claim a divorce for any good reason (vv. 2, 6; h. 2), even though there is no illtreatment on the part of the husband (h. 3).” If the wife feels she wants a divorce from her husband, according to Holy Qur’anic Surah 4:35 Al Nisa, both parties can obtain a divorce through the formal or informal court justice system. “And if you fear a breach between the two, then appoint a judge from his people and a judge from her people; if they both desire agreement, Allah will effect harmony between them” Overall, Islam provides women with equal rights, including the right to divorce, a concept which is often misinterpreted throughout the Muslim and Western World. In the preceding case study, the conversations with the ASOP Shura’s wife, ASOP Shura members, and interpreters were insightful. The information we gathered from these interviews negates the “stereotypical” image of submissive Afghan women, as perpetuated in Western media. While the ASOP Shura’s wife appeared physically weak, she was powerful and strong in her household. The team learned that women in Afghanistan are not necessarily submissive in household matters. In fact, they exercise an influential role within their households that supports the upbringing of their families, addressing their personal, family, and professional needs and concerns, which in turn makes their families a stronger unit. Furthermore, through the support of their communities, some women in the Nijrab District are able to leave marriages where they feel mistreated, reintegrate with their families, and start a new life. Islam redresses women leaving marriages. In reality, divorced women in Afghanistan may suffer adverse consequences. A new life may be limiting for a recently divorced woman who does not have the skills to earn an income. If she chooses to return to her parents’ home, she may become a burden to her family (i.e. another mouth to feed), and as a consequence may be married off to another man. A viable development option for CFs to consider would be the creation of vocational training programs geared towards divorced and widowed women. Learning or enhancing skills in income-generating activities such as tailoring, chicken farming, or beekeeping can set the conditions for 11
women to potentially start businesses that generate revenue subsequently assisting women in supporting their families economically. With these findings, one can ask if Afghan women are really subordinate to their male counterparts. Women and men have their own roles in society. In a country where Islamic Law trumps Afghan Constitutional Law, it seems as the respondents above are practicing Islam in accordance with the Quran and Hadiths. If this is the case, one must ask the question, â€œShould we in the Western world judge and try to change Afghan way of life?â€? Were the Tajik women actually treated submissively by their male relatives and village elders as so widely believed in the Western world, or were the rights accorded to women in the Quran actually provided for and honored by men primarily practicing the Hanafi school of Islamic Jurisprudence in Afghan Muslim society in the area?
THE WOMEN’S SHURA CONNECTION
he second case study discusses how enablers can identify and link up with Women’s Shuras to learn more about their mission, objectives, and professional backgrounds. After the initial interview with the Afghan Social Outreach Program Shura’s (ASOP) wife and our interpreters, our Human Terrain Team (HTT) wanted to branch out and understand how women work within their community. Hence, this second case study discusses how the HTT and its enablers, specifically a member of the Kentucky Agriculture Development Team (ADT) who was visiting the base, identified and linked up with a Women’s Shura located in Nijrab District. The purpose of the Kentucky ADT is to build relationships with local Afghan farmers and work with these Afghan farmers to improve farming methodologies, in order for them to be more self-sufficient. The team learned that a Women’s Shura existed in Nijrab District, and wanted to reach out to learn more about the members. The team contacted the Director of Women’s Affairs (DoWA) of Kapisa Province, who provided us with the contact information of a local Women’s Shura located in a village in Nijrab District. The head of the Shura was contacted with a request to arrange a single group interview with members. The head of this local women’s group was excited to hear from a foreign entity, because CF had not reached out to speak with and understand their cause. She was eager and agreed to speak with us. When asked if she could meet at the FOB, she stated that she first needed her family’s permission. She called back and said she could not meet at the FOB, but that it was permissible for her to meet with us at the Nijrab District Center’s Health Clinic, located in Nijrab Valley. This was because it was safer for the members to be closer to home in a familiar area than travel to the base. The day of the meeting, a member of the Kentucky ADT was visiting our FOB and I invited them to the interview. The member was inter13
ested in learning more about Afghan women issues, needs, and concerns. In collaboration with this female officer of the Kentucky ADT, we met and interviewed four members of the Women’s Shura at the health clinic. There was an Afghan male present during the meeting, possibly a hospital worker. It was unconfirmed if he was there to supervise the interview or if the area was his workstation. Regardless, we proceeded with the meeting. The head of the shura, also known as the Deputy Director of Women’s Affairs, explained that the shura was made up of ten women’s teachers from the high school and other surrounding schools. The head of the shura completed 14th grade in teacher’s college (equivalent to the second year of college) and was a Pashtu and English teacher. One shura member trained for two years at a teacher training school located in Mahmud-e Raqi, the capital of Kapisa Province. Another shura member also completed grade 14 and taught chemistry, the Qur’an, mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, and other sciences. A shura member emphasized that teaching science was difficult because of a lack of learning resources and laboratories to give students practical experience. She continued to state that the Women’s Shura gathered every 15 days at a private location to discuss issues important to the women of Nijrab district. These topics included issues such as insufficient transportation for girls to and from school, the need for literacy and improved access to female vocational skills training, and the need for resources to assist women who face domestic violence, injustice, and economic hardships. During the interview, the head of the shura expressed dissatisfaction with the Director of Women’s Affair (DoWA). The DoWA is a government appointed official who directs women’s activities and works to resolve female issues throughout Kapisa. The DoWA, she stated, resides in the capital of Nijrab, Mahmud-e Raqi and allegedly favors and provides assistance to those living in Kohistan District of Kapisa Province, thus ignoring the needs and concerns of residents living in other parts of Kapisa. Because of this favoritism she said it is important for International Government Organizations (IGOs) and Coalition Forces (CFs) to provide assistance to women in Nijrab districts. IGOs and CFs could provide vocational training programs to females in Nijrab District. She stressed that the District Development Assembly (or the DDA, also known as the Shura Ambastagi, a shura created to implement development projects) also has provided funding for vocational programs to individuals they know instead of those who need it. Therefore, many women are marginalized based on favoritism of shura leaders within Nijrab District. Going to Kabul, she said, where most vocational training takes place, is cost-prohibitive and potentially problematic with regard to travel safety for Kapisa women. From this discussion, our team 14
learned that not all who deserved vocational assistance were receiving it due to preferential treatment from shura leaders, therefore IGOs and CFs needed to determine how they can provide local vocational programs for those women who needed it the most. When the shura was asked whether members would prefer training in beekeeping or midwifery, two options that CFs felt were useful to Afghan women based on past reports, the group agreed that a midwife training program is much needed because of the lack of midwives in the rural areas. In the past, an NGO had implemented a midwife-training program but its effectiveness was not measured. Unfortunately, the Nijrab District Center’s Health Clinic, owned by the Chairman of the DDA, is the closest clinic for women in the District. Without adequate transportation, women in labor are forced to give birth at their homes without medical attention or are placed on the back of donkeys or horses and taken to the clinic. Girls as young as 16 years old have to endure this excruciating agony. The representative from the Kentucky ADT asked whether, if funding were available by the ADT, the shura members would be interested in nominating 25 women who could be trained in beekeeping and chicken farming. The women said they could identify 25 women that would participate in the program. Based on their mandate, the ADT could provide funding for beekeeping or chicken farming. The PRT could try to provide resources for a midwifery program. The representative from the Kentucky ADT said she would get back to the shura in regards to potentially funding and implementing such a project. Whereas the deputy of the shura did not mention the economic status of women who would be picked, we considered whether the deputy would commit the same preferential treatment perpetrated by the DoWA and nominate her friends. This kind of treatment would give us an idea of the personality of the leader and determine if she was genuinely interested in helping her community. The meeting concluded and we learned that, in this particular area, more midwives were needed to ensure healthy childbirths. From the suggestions received at the formal meeting with the Women’s Shura, I decided to write a proposal for the incoming Provincial Reconstruction Team-Female Engagement Team (PRT-FET) on funding a midwife training program based on suggestions made by the Nijrab Women’s shura. We learned a couple of doctors from Kabul, one of which was born in Nijrab District, established the Nijrab Women’s Association, which aims to provide medical and educational assistance to women, specifically widows. The head of the program wanted to provide medical assistance to pregnant women in Nijrab District by establishing a mobile midwifery-training program that would travel throughout permissive 15
areas in Nijrab District and train interested women to be midwives. Unfortunately, the association lacked the funding and equipment necessary to initiate this program and had requested funding from the previous PRT-FET. The proposal explained how the Nijrab Women’s Association, PRTFET, and Nijrab Women’s Shura could collaborate to employ this training program. The shura would explain to the Nijrab Women’s Association the importance of training interested women in midwifery due to a lack of medical facilities existing in Nijrab District. The Nijrab Women’s Association would justify the necessary funding to run the mobile midwife training program for the incoming PRT-FET. The proposal was submitted to the PRT-FET for review. Before I finished my mission, I learned that the PRT-FET requested funding for a stationary midwiferytraining program for Nijrab District. This case study aims to highlight that reaching out to key female leaders or Women’s Shura members to meet for informational interviews is often as simple as calling them on the phone, though this is entirely dependent on the conservative nature of the area of operations. Once the shura is contacted, it may not be possible for individuals of the Women’s Shura to meet on the FOB due to security and cultural traditions, but that a safe, mutually agreed upon place where members of the shura feel comfortable speaking about their mission and needs should be identified for a meeting. If possible at the first meeting, enablers (i.e. Provincial Reconstruction Team - Female Engagement Team, Agriculture Development Teams, Civil Affairs, United States Agency for International Development representatives) should be invited in order for these organizations to understand the shura’s mission and determine if the local community is interested in assistance with economic development training projects and/or humanitarian assistance. The interviewers should listen to women’s development concerns without promising them assistance until a thorough assessment can be made of the situation. Learning about shura member’s occupations and getting a glimpse of their lives builds a positive rapport that allows Coalition Forces (CFs) to truly understand the actual challenges faced by Afghan women. In this case, most women were teachers who completed teacher training college and wanted to improve the lives of women throughout Nijrab District. This Women’s Shura forum primarily discussed problems concerning women and young girls, including their pedagogical needs. They also felt that any training conducted should be closer to their provincial residences rather than Kabul, due to both safety and financial limitations. Investing in midwifery training programs seems to be necessary, given these limitations on travel and access to medical care. As stat16
ed in the first case study, “Women are responsible for family health within the household.” However, access to health facilities to assist their families when they fall ill is limited. “[Specifically, in rural areas in Afghanistan] women do not receive any healthcare during pregnancy or childbirth, contributing significantly to the high number of maternal deaths in childbirth. According to the World Bank, the Maternal Mortality Ratio (modeled estimate per 100,000 live births) is 400. Further complications occur because most of the women are young, malnourished, or have small bodies to start. Twenty percent of children die before the age of five.” Islamic guidance from Imams have stated that women and young girls should not be subjected to these ordeals, for Islam stresses the importance of taking care of women during and after pregnancy to ensure their mental and physical health. In general, Muslims are encouraged to take care of their bodies by consuming nutritious and halal foods throughout their lives. The Holy Qur’anic Surah 2:168 Al Baqarah says, “O mankind: Eat of what is lawful and good on earth." With this said, it is an obligation for Muslims to take care of pregnant women and ensure expectant mothers’ wellbeing is maintained during and after pregnancy, due to the physical and mental stress they may face. Women or young girls should not have to suffer during labor and should have access to the facilities and environment necessary to guarantee a healthy birth. According to the following Hadith, a woman giving birth to her baby will receive a spiritual reward, “When she delivers her baby she will have a reward which is so great that it is incomprehensible.” [Bihar al-Anwar, v.101, p.106-107] Unfortunately, under current circumstances Afghans do not have the resources to ensure this guarantee. However, CF can help women practice their rights in accordance with Islam by promoting healthy eating and hygienic practices, especially during pregnancy.
COALITION PARTNERS AND HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE
he third case study discusses the importance of Coalition Forces (CFs) keeping in contact and building rapport with key leaders such as the Women’s Shura, as introduced in the second case study, which could lead to invitations to other significant women’s events, like International Women’s Day ceremonies. Getting invitation to these events, enables CFs to build relationships with the women, resulting in learning more about women’s issues and concerns, and deepening understanding of Afghans thoughts and beliefs on issues such as women’s rights and equality. I periodically kept in touch with the Nijrab Women’s Shura via cell phone after the first formal meeting. At times during our conversation, the head of the shura would joke with us and ask, “Have you forgotten us already?” These words were poignantly profound because military units Relief in Place/Transfer of Authority (RIP/TOA) at times did not maintain ongoing relationships with Afghan leaders throughout their battlespace. The outgoing unit may not introduce the Afghans they built relationships with and/or discuss development projects they set out to implement with the new unit. Hence, there is inconsistency and lack of follow through with project initiation, implementation, and completion. As a result, relationships made between previous units and local Afghans dissolve, consequently causing Afghans to believe their needs and concerns are no longer significant to CFs. As members of the Human Terrain Teams (HTT) are replaced individually instead of in full teams, unlike units that are entirely replaced, the institutional knowledge HTT members may have of Afghans, previous units built relationships with can be relayed to the new unit, thus potentially lessening feelings of frustration amongst Afghan partners. As a result, HTT 18
introduced the Nijrab Women’s Shuras to the incoming Provincial Reconstruction Team-Female Engagement Team (PRT-FET). The next face-to-face interaction we had with the Nijrab Women’s Shura was a few months later around International Women’s Day, held annually on March 8. The Kapisa DoWA reached out to the PRT-FET and HTT to ask if CFs could participate and work with the Nijrab Women’s Shura to organize an International Women’s Day event. We accepted her invitation and a meeting was held with HTT, PRT-FET, French Psychological Operations (PSYOP), and Civil Military Co-operation (CIMIC) (these Civil-Military units are designed to work with the local population, understand their needs and concerns, and if able, provide them with the funding and resources possible to initiate and implement development and vocational projects), to discuss how we could collaborate and support the students and women participating in the International Women’s Day ceremony. The group decided to participate in the event as speakers and also provide Humanitarian Assistance (HA) donations, such as school supplies, shoes, blankets, etc. An interesting topic arose when discussing what types of HA could be given to the women. It was suggested that French PSYOP hand out radios to promote their Information Operations’ campaign. The French PSYOP Chief hesitated and said if a radio is given to a female, and she brings it back to her house, then her husband may forcefully take it from her. He did not feel comfortable putting women in this situation. The French PSYOP eventually decided to participate in the ceremony and distribute other items more suitable for women. French CIMIC and PSYOP, PRT-FET, and HTT participated in the 2010 International Women’s Day in Nijrab District. An estimated 100 women and young students attended the event. The attendees sat on chairs, blankets, and the ground in the school’s courtyard. Some women wore burkas but revealed their faces, while others wore scarves that partially covered their hair. There were also a few men at the event. The women and girls were happy to interact with the female soldiers who approached them during the ceremony. The DoWA, Head of the Women’s Shura, French CIMIC Chief, PRTFET lead, and a local Mawlawi gave a series of speeches promoting the importance of women during the ceremony. The Mawlawi’s speech stood out in particular as he spoke about women’s rights as stated in the Quran. He said that when Islam came to Afghanistan, women were held in high regard, whereas before Islam, women were considered shameful. He continued to say that Islam gave women rights. He noted that if someone kills a woman, then the murderer would be killed. The Mawlawi emphasized that Islam does not discriminate against women and Afghans have to study Islamic law to understand this. He continued by saying Islam gives women rights to divorce a man and if a 19
woman gets a divorce she is able to get remarried. Prophet Mohammad said women should be treated with respect. Throughout history, he said, many women in Afghanistan were warriors and fought side by side with men in wars. As stated above the Mawlawi’s points were extremely insightful and reflected on key messages from both the Quran as well as Afghan history. As the Holy Qur’anic Surah 3:195 Al’Imran states: “And their Lord hath accepted of them, and answered them: Never will I suffer to be lost The work of any of you, Be he male or female: Ye are from, one another.” Islamic Scholar Mawlawi Yusuf Ali interprets this passage as: “In Islam the equal status of the sexes is not only recognized but insisted on. If sex distinction, which is a distinction in nature, dues not count in spiritual matters, still less of course would it count artificial distinction such as rank, wealth, colour, birth, etc.” Equality is not a concept that is perceived to be practiced in Afghan society by the West, though it was a key message conveyed at speeches during this event. Even though women can exercise certain rights, such as getting a divorce and education as previously mentioned today women in Afghanistan are struggling to regain additional rights they practiced between 1933 during King Zahir Shah’s time and 1964, as stipulated in the Afghan Constitution during the rule of Daud Khan in Kabul, a period often referred to as the “Golden Period,” according to most Afghans I interviewed during my tour explained. During the “Golden Period,” women in Afghanistan were given the right to vote, enter politics, unveil, and acquire an education. The strength Afghan women possess which allows them to work and perform at the same caliber as men are illustrated in the Mawlawi’s discussion of Afghan women as “sisters in arms.” In Afghan history, women in Afghanistan have fought on the front lines to protect their nation. Malalali Anna from Maiwand, Kandahar, also known as the “Afghan Joan of Arc,” made her mark in Afghanistan history as the woman who inspired Afghan troops to continue to fight against the British after much exhaustion during the Battle of Maiwand on 27 July 1880. In her speech during the battle she said, “If today you do not stand for Afghanistan dignity and identity that we have 20
preserved with our blood. If today you fail, your children will never feel proud of showing belongingness to the highlands. It’s today that we have to forget our veil, forget our age, forget our wounds, forget our pains, forget everything but Afghanistan and defend it with our blood, our soul and our sword.” With these words of inspiration, the Afghan army won the Battle of Maiwand, but Malalali was martyred during the war with the Afghan flag and sword in her hands. A second renowned and respectable Afghan Pashtun woman (also a poet) was Nazo Tokhi Anaa. Nazo was known for her notorious warrior strength and fought against anyone who endangered her family’s home. Furthermore, she mediated between Pashtun tribes who were disputing land or other matters. From teachings of the Islamic Surah that discuss women’s equality and key leaders such as the DoWA and Mawlawi conveying women’s rights in women’s events, it seems as though women’s equality in Nijrab District could gradually come to fruition. CFs may assist in ways to help women progress professionally and personally, but need to be cautious about working with the right Afghan partners who are open to these ideas and understand the consequences that can occur from opposition if working with CFs. To achieve the CFs’ objectives maintaining and developing rapport with Afghans is crucial. A strong relationship with Afghan partners can ensure CFs are invited to participate in significant events throughout the AO, as evidenced by our participation in the 2010 International Women’s Day Ceremony. This case study continues to explain the second and third order effects of distributing Humanitarian Aid (HA) at these events. This section examines the second and third order effects of handing out Humanitarian Assistance (HA) during significant events after speeches were completed during International Women’s Day. Once speeches were finished, lunch was scheduled to be served, but the food had not arrived. The DoWA asked if we could proceed with giving out HA or gifts to participants. French CIMIC brought 200 blankets, notebooks, pencils, jelly bracelets, and scarves to give to the women only. PRT brought 25 adult sweaters, 45 children’s sweaters, 84 scarves, and 80 toys. The priority was to give clothing to women, and toys and notebooks to children. The Afghan leaders attempted to line up the guests in order to receive their gifts outside, which were handed out from a classroom window. Once the distribution began, the situation quickly became chaotic and women and students aggressively rushed to the windows to pick up their gifts. People pushed and shoved, and a number of times the gift giving paused until the recipients lined up in a straight line. While the HA distribution was intended to be a goodwill gesture 21
by the CFs, there were negative second and third order effects. The distribution incited aggression and caused disruptive behavior from recipients, which is contradictory to Afghans’ belief of behaving in an honorable manner. Even though the group was primarily Tajik, certain elements of Pashtunwali code of honor such as imandari (righteousness) and ghayrat (self honor or dignity) are practiced throughout Afghanistan due to national morals and values, regardless of ethnicity. Imandari “requires people to behave in a moral and [ethical] way…and respectfully towards all creation, including people, animals and the environment around them.” Ghayrat is defined as, “Pashtuns must respect themselves and others.” In this case, the participants of the event were not acting in the honorable manner as revered in Afghan culture when collecting their gifts. Even though facilitators gave explicit directions to line up in order to collect items, mayhem still persisted. This may be because the women felt items would run out before they got to the front of the line, or they wanted to obtain more items. After more than 30 years of war, women are as much in survival mode as men in Afghanistan. They know that obtaining as many items as possible at the event could be used towards helping their families and themselves. Upon completion of the event, I was struck by the fact that our goodwill gestures had in some respects done more harm than good by inciting competition among fellow community members, potentially pitting relatives and friends against one another and leading to fractured relationships among community members. An alternative method of HA distribution, which could bolster support for GIRoA (a key mission of ISAF), would be to give items to the DoWA or the Deputy Director of the Women’s Shura to distribute to the women in a follow-up event. It is important to note that this strategy is not without its own pitfalls in the event that the community leaders who the CFs choose to liaise with are themselves corrupt and could possibly keep items for their friends and families. The process of HA distribution should be carefully considered, mapped out, and discussed prior to the event with key Afghan leaders or facilitators. Another question that can be asked is whether events like the one described above encourage the sustainment of a welfare state, which has been magnified since the initiation of Operation Enduring Freedom. It may not be necessary for these women to receive gifts at the end of the event. Furthermore, after the aid distribution, lunch was served to the CFs but not to the participants. The DoWA promised the women would be served later, though I questioned if the event participants actually received their lunch after we left, as they may have been asked to leave shortly after CFs did due to the situation that occurred previously. 22
Two days later, a second ceremony honoring women was held at Mahmud-e Raqi District Center. The PRT-FET and HTT participated in this event. There were approximately 450 women and teenage girls seated to the right of the district center ballroom and approximately 100 men and boys seated to the left. Many women wore beautiful, sophisticated, and stylish traditional or western style clothing and shoes under their burkas. From their outfits, it seemed as these women came from the upper-middle class of Tajik society in Kapisa Province, meaning those from a low income household may not had the opportunity to come to the event, due to lack of transportation or monetary resources. Once again, from the interaction the PRT-FET and HTT had with women and girls, we learned they were eager to interact with us. Again, speeches were scheduled for the morning. Various high officials spoke at the ceremony. One official gave a speech on women’s rights as stipulated in Islam and the Afghan Constitution. These speeches were similar to the ones given during Nijrab International Women’s Day. A brief history of International Women’s Day was also conveyed, along with the following themes and messages. 1. Women should follow Islam. 2. Women and men are equal. 3. Islam gives women a lot of rights, such as working outside the home and going to school, but the people of Afghanistan do not practice these rights. 4. Mullahs in Afghanistan should tell their villagers to allow girls to go to school. 5. Government should support women with their needs. 6. Through hard work, shoulder-to-shoulder with men, women positively influence Afghanistan’s future. 7. Afghan women’s support for men is the reason men have progressed. 8. Women should participate in Afghanistan’s Peace Jirga. 9. Women should not be treated with disrespect in Afghanistan. 10. Women of Afghanistan are obligated to wear the Islamic Hijab. 11. Harshness towards women should end in Afghanistan. 12. Women’s shortened lifespan adversely impacts Afghanistan. 13. Women of Afghanistan should be good wives to their husbands and cooperate with and be advisors to their families. 14. Women get married at a young age and as a consequence, do not obtain adequate education in Afghanistan. A key theme which was once again brought up during speeches at this International Women’s Day event was the equality between men and women, which is discussed in Holy Qur’anic Surah 4: Al Nisa verse 1: “O Mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord Who created you from 23
a single Person, Created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain Scattered (like Seeds) countless men and women-Fear Allah, through whom ye demand your Mutual (rights) and (reverence) the wombs (that bore you): For Allah Ever Watches over you.” Islamic scholar Mawlana Abdullah Yusuf Ali interprets this as: “Among the most wonderful mysteries of our nature is that of sex. The unregenerate male is apt, in the pride of his physical strength, to forget the all important part that the female plays in his very existence, and in all the social relationships that arise in our collective human lives. The mother that bore us must ever have our reverence. The wife, through whom we enter parentage, must have our reverence. Sex, which governs much our physical life, and has so much influence on our emotional and higher nature, deserves-not our fear, or our contempt, or our amused indulgence, but-our reverence in the highest sense of the term.” Women’s equality, as stipulated in the Qur’an and publically voiced during such a major event as International Women’s Day, demonstrates that women’s rights are supported and encouraged by religious leaders and GIRoA. This is the first step in promoting women’s capabilities to improve their lives in Afghanistan. Once speeches commenced, HA distribution began with similar results to the previous event. Each row was asked to stand up and guests were escorted to the area where the HA was being passed out. Upon receipt of a HA item, the women were asked to leave through the front door. Once again the Afghan leaders attempted to line up the women. At times men came and asked for gifts and were given either flip flops or Croc shoes. Notebooks were given to teenage children. Like the ceremony in Nijrab District, women forcefully ran and pushed each other to get ahead of the line. The distribution of items was put on hold until the women stopped pushing, as young children were being pushed down in the chaos. Unlike western perceptions of Afghan women as obedient and submissive, these women were persistent and aggressive during the HA distribution. At times, they would put their burkas on and come back into the line to receive additional items. To get additional toys and baby clothes, women were passing around one baby from woman to woman. When this behavior was observed, the HA distribution stopped and items were locked away. The DoWA was requested by the PRT-FET to give the rest of the items to the women at another time.” Coalition Forces should work with Afghans who are open to the idea of women’s personal and professional advancement. Once again, the Coalition’s desire to promote goodwill caused complications in creating and perpetrating a welfare state and unnecessary chaos. CFs 24
should have learned from past experiences regarding HA distribution, like in the outcome of HA distribution at the Nijrab Districtâ€™s International Womenâ€™s Day event. CFs have changed the course of action to where the DoWA distributed the items. CFs should limit distributing HA during events and choose Afghans to hand out these items. At the end of the day, these items donated could directly assist their families and themselves, instead of international forces empowering Afghans through their generosity. One could also assume, HA distribution could cause a welfare state where Afghans will continue to rely on non-governmental organizations and other intergovernmental organizations for handouts in the future, rather than setting the conditions for their own economic prosperity.
THE PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION TEAM AND WOMEN’S SHURA
esides the casual interaction the Provincial Reconstruction Team-Female Engagement Team (PRT-FET) had with the Bazare Badakhshi’s Women’s Shura at International Women’s Day, the FET and shura were not formally acquainted. Hence, it was important for them to meet in order to build a collaborative relationship. To this end, Case Study Four examines a meeting held between the PRT-FET, HTT, and the Women’s Shura with the objective of raising the FET’s level of understanding of the shura’s purpose and activities. Nine women were present at the meeting, all of whom were teachers. During introductions, each woman provided the team with their educational and occupational background. The majority graduated from or were in the process of completing teacher training school. The women taught at Bazare Badakhshi High School or the surrounding schools in various subjects such as Pashtu, Dari, English, chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, and history. After introductions were made, the PRT and HTT decided to start interviewing the shura members. The questions asked were designed to determine: (1) What type of women’s projects did the shura feel needed to be implemented in Nijrab District? 1. How were social and household problems resolved at household and local levels? 2. What type of news did the women listen to? 3. How have insurgents impacted women’s progression?
4. What were their opinions of the state of female education? Initially, the Deputy Director of Women’s Affairs took the lead and spoke of the group‘s education and development concerns (while other women politely listened). Seven desired programs included: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Literacy training. Vocational training in tailoring for women. Construction of a bakery. Teacher training courses. Implementation of a daycare at the high school. Construction of a well near the high school.
After the deputy’s remarks, other members of the shura agreed with the need for these programs. The PRT-FET and HTT asked the women if they knew which local Afghan government appointed representatives they can speak with to request development, education, and community projects for the school and surrounding villages. As a side note, it was questionable if the PRT-FET knew themselves where the shura could go to receive assistance. The shura have historically reached out to the Kapisa DoWA for help. However, she was unresponsive to their requests. The deputy emphasized that the DoWA does not support the shura, and helps only those who reside in Kohistan and whom she knows personally. There seemed to be animosity between the DoWA and the head of the shura. Members stated education related issues were referred to the Ministry of Education. The Human Terrain Team (HTT) and Kentucky Agriculture Development Team (ADT) member learned a lot from these women. In terms of conflict resolution within the home, internal problems were either solved by the family or settled by a village elder, who was consulted for advice. Members also confirmed that most children listen to, respect, and obey their mothers. The women were aware of the Guardians of Peace Program (a program rewarding Afghans if they report credible intelligence to government authorities), because of Radio Omid broadcasts. The group usually listens to Radio Omid and Radio Azadie, which are national Afghan radio stations owned and operated by CFs. For entertainment, they listen to music from morning to noon. Their sentiments are reflected in a recent Social Science Research and Analysis nationwide study: “Respondents [participating in the study] saw the media as a force for positive and significant change in the lives of women. The media empowered women by providing important information regarding their rights and helping them participate in social 27
and political life, as well as helping to build job skills. Many [women] thought that there should be more governmental programming specifically for women.” Speaking with the shura proved parts of this study to be true, for these women were informed of government programs taking place in Afghanistan by listening to the news on the radio. The members felt that the lives of women have improved by 50% in the post-Taliban era. When the Taliban were in power, women had to stay at home, were not allowed to go outside, and were prohibited from educational pursuits. Some of the teachers were educated during the pre-Taliban era and decided to continue their schooling after the Taliban’s fall. During the Pre-Taliban era, many shura members became teachers because they did not have the educational facilities to study medicine or engineering. Today, they encourage female students to pursue careers in medicine, law, or engineering. Members of the shura chose teaching as a profession in order to positively influence students, guide them to the right path, and deter them from negative influences. The same SSRA survey also reported that the Taliban negatively influenced women’s progression throughout Afghan society, specifically regarding their rights. Survey respondents overwhelmingly stated that the Taliban’s existence makes it unsafe for women to travel outside the home, hindering them from going to school or work. For example, the Women’s Shura often feel unsafe to travel to Afghanya Valley and work at a local girls’ school, where they believe the majority of insurgents reside and patrol at night. The PRT-FET and HTT then asked about graduation rates at the Bazare Badakhsi High School. The deputy said that the 1st to 6th grades are taught in the morning shift, while the 7th to 12th grades are taught in the afternoon. She emphasized that 36 girls graduated from the high school and 40 girls were expected to graduate the following year. After students pass their exit exams and graduate high school, some girls go to university, particularly Al-Biruni University located in Mahmud-e Raqi or to the teacher training school in Nijrab District. When girls reach 12th grade, they typically divide their time between school and household chores, with some girls already engaged to be married by this age. The deputy said that a member from the District Development Assembly (DDA) is active in advocating girls’ education and provided financial assistance for female students who are accepted to universities in India, though the names of these universities were not stated. It was evident that shura members really wanted their female students to be successful in their future endeavors and to have professional opportunities. A separate HTS SSRA study found that: 28
“[Women interviewed in other parts of Afghanistan] expressed unconditional support for women receiving an education. Reasons given were that it empowered women, improved their status, protected their rights, helped support their families, and helped them in childrearing.” The Taliban’s draconian restriction of female education is antithetical to both Holy Qur’anic instruction and Hadith, which advocate for women’s education. There are several verses in the Hadith that promote women’s rights to an education, specifically Sunah states the following: “Seeking knowledge is compulsory for each and every Muslim (i.e. both male and female).” [Ibn Majah Hadith #224 al-Baihaqi “Islam entitles women to the same rights as men in terms of education and cultivation. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be Upon Him) said, as reported and authenticated by the scholars of prophetic traditions.” [Ibn Majah Hadith #224 al-Baihaqi] The PRT-FET asked for names of 25 women who would be interested in beekeeping and chicken farming vocational training. Upon completion of my tour in Afghanistan, I learned that the 25 women whose names were submitted to the PRT-FET participated in beekeeping and chicken farming training at the DoWA’s compound in Mahmud-e Raqi. At the end of our meeting, women stated the shura was not only a forum to discuss women’s issues and concerns within the community, but also an opportunity to get together and socialize, discussing their daily lives, eating and drinking tea, and getting rid of the stresses of their work and home lives. Mission success is constituted in identifying a Women’s Shura and its needs, linking them up with a PRT-FET or other enablers, and ensuring their needs are met through ongoing collaboration. The PRT-FET learned that these shura members advocate female education and are interested in learning income-generating vocational skills. The information these women receive from the radio provides them with a broad understanding of programs taking place in Afghanistan. In this case, the PRT-FET’s formal introduction led the women’s shura to nominate 25 women who participated in the beekeeping and chicken farming organized by the PRT-FET, Agricultural Development Team, and DoWA. This collaboration initiates the first steps to improving these women’s vocational skills, which in the long run, could assist them in generating income and supporting their families without relaying on HA.
A WILLFUL ACT
he final case study illustrates that, in particular circumstances, Afghan women will behave boldly in order to receive the Humanitarian Assistance (HA) needed to support their families and themselves. This section provides specific examples of how these women become passionate, persistent, and outspoken when needed, demonstrating an assertive side, a conditioned expectation of most Westerners. The HTT, PRT, Task Force LaFayetteâ€™s (TFLF) Civil Military Corporation (CIMIC) collaborated with Nijrabâ€™s Afghan Social Outreach Program (ASOP) members (Shura Mahali) and road contractors to compensate individuals whose homes had been destroyed from road construction, as stipulated in the Afghan Constitution and road contractor contracts. This compensation was in the form of monetary repayment and HA. ASOP Shura members worked with road contractors to assess damages made to private property during road construction and formulated a list of types of damages along with the name of the property owners. Throughout the course of several road compensation days, individuals whose property was damaged lined up outside the Nijrab District Center to obtain their compensation. For verification purposes, individualâ€™s names on taskaras (National Identity Card) were cross-checked by members of the ASOP Shura with a list of property owners. Men and women who were not recorded as recipients but believed they should be compensated stood in line to plead their case. At times, both men and women who were not on the list tried to finesse their way into receiving aid. One woman wearing a traditional burka came to the event, restless to receive her money. An ASOP Shura member did not find her name on the list and requested she leave. The woman raised her voice and argued with the shura member. She did not hold back her feelings and stated her house was skipped when ASOP members and road contractors were assessing property damages. She stated that her property 30
was destroyed from road construction and emphasized that she was entitled to compensation. The male shura member yelled back and told her to leave. According to stereotypical characteristics of Afghan women, I expected her to be submissive and obediently listen to the shura member with respect. Surprisingly, she fought back until she received compensation. Instead of receiving monetary compensation, she received a radio. She did not seem to regret her behavior towards the shura member or appear worried about potential repercussions. On another compensation day, HA recipients were given rice, food, and clothing instead of monetary compensation. Three women approached the compound where HA was handed out, and their names were not on the list. Unlike the first woman, these women were told to wait until everyone had received their HA. At the end of the distribution, there was enough HA items left, and the women received flour, sugar, and a duffle bag. When the HA distribution came to an end, I was surprised to see members of the Nijrab Women’s shura come to get HA. Luckily we had enough items left over to give them. Despite media stereotypes of Afghan women as submissive and passive, these particular Tajik women were strong minded and opinionated. Additionally, before recipients (both male and female) entered the district center each road compensation day, they had to be searched. Afghan women were escorted to a private room and searched by female soldiers. I escorted the women into these rooms and when their burkas were lifted, as observed during International Women’s Day, I found that even though these women were economically impoverished and wearing burkas, they took pride in their appearance and were happy to interact with another woman (even if she was working with CF). Once again, after analyzing incidents such as the ones exemplified in Case Study Three, I concluded that women acted aggressively because they were in survival mode and felt it necessary to take whatever they could get at these events that could potentially help their families. If women become accustomed to receiving free assistance from CFs, CFs could reinforce a “welfare state of mind” that perpetuates this dependency. Therefore, CFs need to reverse this mentality before they withdraw. Stopping the distribution of HA altogether and instead providing women with practical vocational and health training (such teaching women to drink water when they have a headache, or embroidery classes) during these events could be a more viable option. Though our team had limited opportunity for interaction with Tajik females, the pattern of trends observed seemed consistent enough to provide some assessments regarding characteristics of the Tajik female population we were interacting with in the immediate area of opera31
tions and answers the question asked initially in this paper: “Were all Afghan women actually treated submissively by their male relatives and village elders as so widely believed in the Western world, or were the rights accorded to women in Islam actually provided for and honored by men in Afghan Muslim society resident in the area?” 1. Women’s roles as mothers are highly respected in Tajik society. From our conversation with the ASOP Shura’s wife, Chairman of ASOP Shura’s Security Committee, our team’s interpreter, and Nijrab Women’s Shura a.k.a Bazaare Badakhshi High School, I learned that certain Tajik women can be the main authority figure in their households and can dictate their sons’ and daughters’ professional and personal lives. Hence, I questioned whether a mother’s influence over a child’s professional life could play a role in deterring her son/s or daughter/s from joining the insurgency. If a mother does not want her children to become affiliated with an insurgent group, can she deter her son or daughter? Of course, at the end of the day, the son or daughter can be persuaded by outside negative influencers to participate in the insurgency. However, it seems from the limited conversations we had, children can abide by the Qur’anic mandate that stipulates that sons and daughters must listen to their mothers and disobeying them can cause severe consequences. 2. Tajik women are aware that divorce is permissible per Qur’anic guidance. From our conversation with the ASOP Shura’s wife, Chairman of the ASOP Shura Security Committee and from listening to a Mullah and key leaders at the International Women’s Day ceremonies, as well as from research and interviews, I learned that some Tajik societies in Nijrab District, Kapisa Province accept and support women obtaining a divorce based on the guidance given in the Qur’an, Surah 4: Al Nisa. 3. Afghan women should be actively sought out by CFs and engaged with in order to identify issues central to Afghan women. To learn about women’s concerns, and issues and positive and negative influencers in the AO, a Women’s Shura and/or both formal and informal female leaders should be identified and engaged. The members of the Nijrab Women’s Shura who we engaged with were genuinely concerned about the future of girls’ education and their professional careers. Coalition Forces and a the Provincial Reconstruction TeamFemale Engagement Teams (PRT-FET) or similar entity can collaborate with a Women’s Shura that is actively engaged in initiatives to improve the future of women in their country. 4. Nepotism and corruption can affect key Afghan leaders irrespective of gender. We speculate that the discontent expressed by the Deputy Director of the Nijrab Women’s Shura for the Kapisa Director of Women’s Affairs may be out of jealousy. Afghans who are put in 32
a leadership position and responsible for providing development and vocational assistance may give preferential treatment to their families and friends before those who may seriously need the help. 5. Religious leaders vary in their support of women’s issues from progressive to conservative. Afghanistan is a country which venerates religion over Constitutional Law and reveres Mullahs, looking upon them as their guiding light. Knowing that women’s rights based on Qur’anic guidance are not being conveyed accurately may reflect the negative influences some (but not all) Mullahs have on the population. The lack of education and literacy forces women to listen to the preachings of Mullahs, Mawlawis, and Islamic Scholars without question. Like the Mullah at International Women’s Day who spoke about women’s rights, other Mullahs who promote education of women as stipulated in the Qur’an should be identified. Engaging these Mullahs and other formal and informal leaders who are supportive of women’s progression in Afghanistan is critical to CF success. 6. Afghan women are trying to survive. Foreigners feel sympathetic towards Afghan women because of preconceived stereotypical notions of the subservience of Afghan women. However, from participating in HA distributions during International Women’s Day and road compensation day, I observed that Tajik women live for today, taking every opportunity to obtain what they can from CFs to help themselves and their family. Tomorrow might not be guaranteed. CFs must be cautious when distributing HA, consciously thinking about the second and third order effects of the event and keep in mind that CFs need to enable Afghans to survive independent of foreign aid. 7. Tajik women are outspoken advocates. Tajik women have a voice and are eager and ready to express their needs and concerns to CFs. We need to stop neglecting these women and engage them with cultural sensitivity. The Human Terrain Systems, Social Science Research and Analysis branch reported that, “In…Regional Command Central, Regional Command West, and Regional Command East, many respondents claimed they welcomed the presence of Female Engagement Teams (FETs) and believed that FETs played a major role in helping Afghan women.” Throughout all my interactions with Afghan women, these women were curious to know who I was. They asked where I came from? I didn’t look American. My skin color was brown. What was my ethnicity? Why was I so tall? They were excited to see another woman and all they wanted to do was talk with me. My physical features intrigued them more than my affiliation with the military? This may be because I had physical features like them and was a woman. Reaching out, speaking, cooperating, and working with local women was the best part of my tour. I was fortunate to engage with these resilient women 33
who were doing what they could to survive the situation they were put in without a choice. These women have an enormous amount of responsibility and struggles that influence their quality of life. Overall, I hope the above observations provided much deeper insight for the French Unit, Task Force LaFayette and the PRT-FET, which we were supporting by providing perspectives of the female population living within the area of operations that were previously only marginally considered when formulating civil military actions in the area. ***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Naheed Vadsaria worked as a Social Scientist Observer Trainer with the Department of the Army’s Human Terrain Systems in Leavenworth, Kansas. Ms. Vadsaria relocated to Afghanistan to work as a Social Scientist from June 2010 to June 2011 and was embedded with French Brigade Task Force LaFayette (TELF) in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan. As a Social Scientist, Ms. Vadsaria conducted operationally relevant research on major socio-cultural issues affecting TFLF’s area of operations. She also worked with PRT Kapisa’s ad hoc Female Engagement Teams and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Team to identify and collaborate with Women’s Shura and key female leaders residing in Nijrab District, Kapisa Province. After her time with the Department of Army’s Human Terrain Systems, Ms. Vadsaria worked at a legal organization in Banjul, The Gambia. At this time she researched land, labor, and business issues pertinent to The Gambia. Ms. Vadsaria holds a Master of Arts in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Northeastern University.
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Despite over a decade of calls for women’s empowerment in post-Taliban Afghanistan (and massive international investments in causes for the...
Published on Mar 1, 2016
Despite over a decade of calls for women’s empowerment in post-Taliban Afghanistan (and massive international investments in causes for the...