Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Day for Solidarity: Sitara Achakzai

Today's entry is dedicated to Sitara Achakzai .

Sitara was gunned down by the Taliban today when she got out of her car.
The large newspapers use the term "gunned down" and as soon as I read that phrase I was frozen by it's brutality
She wasn't just "shot" or "killed" she was "GUNNED DOWN."

Achakzai returned to Afghanistan from Germany to fight for women's equality in the country, promote empowerment and encourage women to get jobs and demand parity with the men of the country. The Taliban of course being the Sunni Islamic Fundamentalists that they are, do not permit such nontraditional civil disobedience. Yes, defending fundamental human rights is seen as disobedient and even a large threat. Once people are empowered how the fuck are they going to be controlled?

<----- Women in Kabul voting for the first time in 2004. (Wikipedia)

I don't want to turn Sitara into a mere example of the work that still needs to be done with gender equality but how can people just disassociate themselves from what is going on here. Sure sure, a lot of people hate on me for being a feminist but it's not about just fighting for women's rights, it's about human rights.

Taking a look at Afghani women, western society (thanks to Time magazine's cover especially) thinks that women are mainly oppressed because they have to wear the Burqa or Hijab. Has anyone ever thought that maybe some women choose to wear it for their own religious reasons? Given, being stripped from the choice to wear it or not is oppressive but there is a lot more going on here.

Take a look at education opportunities, employment and salary differentials, domestic and even public abuse, rape and sexual harassment, access to food, water, health care. All are examples have woman subordinate to men when we examine gender in Afghanistan. (*Please note that this happens in many areas especially around the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, South America and even keep watch in your own community.)

Sitara Achakzai was an example of a woman standing up to brutality and oppression by organizing coalitions with other woman and human rights groups. In the end she ends up being gunned down by the Taliban's Qari Yousef Ahmedi who openly takes responsibility for the murder. She becomes one of his accomplishments.

Then we have the most disturbing trend in Afghanistan right now: self-immolation. For those of you who don't know, self-immolation is when someone commits suicide by lighting themselves on fire. We all saw the famous pictures or video clips of Buddhist monks performing self-immolation to protest the Vietnam War but Afghan woman are doing this daily. They don't do it publicly to make a demonstration, they do it privately to end their own suffering. This is a huge embarrassment for their family's therefore, the way they die often gets covered up.

A while back (I believe it was International Women's Day) I read an essay from the Globe and Mail and the women were talking about self-immolation as a way to relieve themselves from the abuse and suffering that they endure in Afghanistan. One young survivor was asked what she had to say to other Afghan women and she said to use a gun because it is more successful.

Mass numbers of woman are pouring gasoline on themselves and lighting themselves on fire in an attempt to ESCAPE pain. So yes, while things have improved for women since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001, they are nowhere near creating a safe environment where all citizens have the basic right to security. Rape reports are up since 2001 and that also contributes to the increase in suicide.

Women are also being burned alive in the Middle East by their husbands.

"Scores of women have killed themselves by self-immolation to escape abuse, forced marriages or other oppressive customs. As a widow, Bibi would have been on the bottom rung of traditional Afghan society — undesirable for marriage and unemployable because of her gender," said Heidi Vogt of the Globe and Mail. The woman, Bibi, that she refers to had recently walked into her house, poured gasoline on herself and set herself on fire because she saw no other alternative. NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE?!

Something needs to be done.

There has to be a way for woman to reach out for support and connect with others to realize that they aren't alone fighting their battles. Grassroots organizations, such as RAWA, have helped express discontentment and stress the need for reform but still, powers like the UN need to get behind them to support their causes or even their right to organize.

Who am I though? Here I sit, a privileged Canadian trying to understand another culture from the third floor of my university's library. I get sad and then pissed off learning about human rights violations but the worst feeling is that of helplessness.

Reform needs to take place to empower woman and children so they are no longer victims but autonomous agents of their own lives. I'm certainly not saying that the western model is the "right" model for it is just as fucked as any government, but when democracy works, things become a little less fucked and human rights more widely enjoyed.

This is also why I find it so hard to tell NATO troops to just pull right out of Afghanistan and let the country run itself. If the Taliban takes control once again, human rights will keep slipping farther backward. I don't support war or brutality at all; however, there needs to be some mediation and assistance given to grassroots organizations who are trying to build a more equal, sustainable future for their country. That may mean intervention from foreign powers. I guess we will see what happens when Obama moves Iraqi troops over there too...

Today I will remember Sitara Achakzai and encourage all women and men to show solidarity for everyone fighting for gender equality in this most unequal world.

Please check out

This picture Zarmeena an Afghan women who was publicly executed by Taliban in Ghazi sports stadium in Kabul on 17 Nov. 1999. (Photo: RAWA) ------------------->

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