Wednesday, October 18, 2006

an interesting conversation

Below I pasted an excerpt from a friend's email, and my response.

WD to Evers to Chance:
"It sounds like a real big structural problem (based on what both you and Nathan have said/written) is the illiteracy. Should that be the first and foremost issue to tackle? Also, do you ever feel like it's hopeless? Maybe not gender relations in Kabul, but the fight for equality for women in the broader muslim world? It seems like a hell of a battle at this point. Don't get me wrong, I do believe the most important stuggle in the world is the one for equal rights for women, it's just what we read in the West makes it seem like much of the islamic world (at least from Eygpt to Pakistan) is getting more conservative and repressive, not more open."

My reply:
"Literacy - This is a huge problem in Afghanistan, but how do you teach people how to read when they can't eat, are living in tents in the middle of winter, and more than 80% of the population doesn't have access to clean water? Oh, and over 95% don't have access to sanitation and sewage. Hell, there are places in this country where you have to travel 9 hours on foot or by donkey to reach the nearest city because there aren't any roads. . . And, how do you increase the literacy of the population when many of them refuse to let women attend any kind of schooling? Not only are women more than half the population, but they are the ones who spend time with their kids, who theoretically should be in school. How do you convince a starving family that their 8 year old daughter who does the house chores so that the mother can embroider and sell wares should go to school when the family knows there won't be any jobs for her and she's just going to get married off and have babies anyway? How do you convince people that instead of marrying their daughters off at 12 for some goats and sheep, they should keep her at home (continuing to feed and clothe her) and let her go to school?

My point is, I don't think you can focus on just one area, like literacy. There is a huge push for schooling here - the enrollment rate is up by 400% from 2001 (partially because of repatriation), but the country doesn't have the infrastructure to support it. You also need roads, vehicles, bathrooms, textbooks and teachers. That means you need to get communities involved, including women.

Yeah, I do think the Muslim world is getting more conservative, but I think it is in direct response to Western policies. And, a lot more women are fighting it than ever before, which is a good sign. Or, at least they are fighting it more publicly. Don't forget, the US is also becomming increasingly conservative and repressive - we're in the process of watching our rights slip away under Bush, the Patriot Act and Homeland Security. Alot of the current problems in the Middle East circle back to colonialism and the cold war. One of the biggest mistakes westerners and feminist muslim women made in the 60s and 70s was to tie women's freedom to modernity and the west. Now, the backlash is against the West and anything tied to it or seen as culturally foreign - including women's rights. Ironically, what the Taliban practices isn't even close to Islam, and fundamentalist movements in general miss the spirit of Islam. Fudamentalism is extreme political conservatism parading as religion. It's really sad.

It is a hell of a battle, but I think that women will win in the end. More women in the Muslim world are educated every year, and that is the key to women claiming their rights. The current political dichotomy of pitting the West against Islam is tragic because so many people are suffering on the periphery. At any rate, modern history in the Muslim world shows that conservative trends move in waves, so things are bound to swing around eventually. The more Bush and the West screw around in the Middle East, the longer it will take to swing, but it will, eventually."

Maybe I'm too optomistic.

*** Pic is of the conversators - no, of course it isn't from Kabul


Anonymous said...

Its meshari. That is very good point you put out. I never really thought about the ability to read as the most important thing for afghani people, but I also never looked at it the way you have.

Very interesting.... yes... Mmmmm.. :: british acsent::

Have a good evening sahar.


WD to Evers to Chance said...

I totally have 7 chins in that picture. Ugh. Couldn't you have found a better pic? Anyhow, more intelligent comments to follow soon...

Sahar said...

Aw, come on. It's only three chins. It's not like I have a ton of pictures of us to choose from . . . Besides - it's a good pic of me.