“Registering mother’s name in national ID card is a dishonor and shame for the nation…I think, most Afghans do not want their mothers’ name to be [printed on ID cards],” are the words spoken out by a former Taliban leader, Sayed Akbar Agha, at a gathering held in the ancient Herat city, onetime capital of Timurid Renaissance, and home to Gohar Shad, a princess who led cultural renaissance in golden age of Islamic civilization.
Agha’s words on women right to identity follows a government decision that allows Afghan mothers to put their names on their children’s ID cards. His statement is but one example of a deep rooted mindset in the Afghan society.
Sayed Akbar Agha is not alone in his fear and hatred of women. The conservative tribal Afghan society is united in their fear and hatred of women. Many Afghans, with apparent western outfits, treat women as an entity that is entitled to serve honor of family and tribe. In tribal Afghan culture—something which is an assortment of patriarchy and tribal values—women are treated as creatures who do not have individuality and selfhood. For the best interest of tribal honor, woman personality, in the tribal structure, is reduced to a kind of invisible creature whose visibility in public space breaks the tribal character and persona of family institution.
Men’s fear from woman body and freedom, however, feeds a collective male desire that longs to control and govern women. The desire to control women, which is not unique of Afghan society, can be seen in tribal codes, laws, family regulations and national attitude elsewhere too— particularly in countries with Islamic background.
Women fight against an old enemy will not be won unless they unite themselves around a single political cause.
Sayed Akbar Agha, in his stance against identity rights of women, represents an attitude which many Afghan men carry in their heads and hearts, no matter how liberal and open-minded gestures they might take.
The level of pathologies of misogyny and disdain is obviously evident in daily-conduct of men on the streets of urban centers. Most of my female friends and colleagues, often as they recall their daily experiences on Kabul streets, tell a painful story of harassment and humiliation by passers-by, cab drivers, government officials, teachers, students, shopkeepers and etcetera.
It is not surprising. A nation that feels shame to put mother name on national ID card turns a blind eye on its undercurrent condescension—not knowing that the harder it resists against women the more fragile social harmony gets there.
It is not all about this issue.
As black American feminist, Assata Shakur puts, “nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appeasing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” Women fight against oppression begins there where they face the oppressors.
The fight against a mentality which feels shame for women identity in a country where men control power politics is long and arduous. It cannot be achieved in a day, as the anti-women mindset has not developed overnight.
In this fight, the Afghan women should go beyond daily necessities and resolve minor differences which might divide them.
They, first of all, need to outline a long-term strategy which potentially can unify them around a cause. They also need to network and capitalize on a common interest: a loud united voice. Any kind of short-term approach and NGO-funded activism will help cure this ill which is endemic in the Afghan society. Afghan women rights activists, in a time when a power sharing deal with the fundamentalist Taliban is underway, need to stay strong, united, and determined. Women fight against an old enemy—a patriarchy which is deeply entrenched in long rooted tribal desire to keep women invisible—will not be won unless they unite themselves around a single political cause. Women fight for their rights begins here.