Afghan Women Can't Go a Long Way, Baby (Without a Male Chaperone)

|

So saith Afghan parliamentarian Al-Hajj Abdul Jabbar Shalgarai, appalled that fellow parliamentarians of the female persuasion were also on a trip to London trying to gin up aid for their country–unchaperoned! From the Christian Science Monitor report:

Under sharia, the notion of mahram-e sharaii, or male chaperones, allows for women to travel for more than three days if they are accompanied with a male relative. Because mahram-e sharaii has not been introduced as a bill, it is impossible to know just how much parliamentarian support it has. But with an estimated 50 percent of the lower house claiming past experience as fighters in the anti-Soviet jihad, and current affiliation with Islamist parties, it's clear that conservative interpretations of Islamic life have a strong political hold.
…..
Zeefunun Safi, another parliamentarian, agrees. "If my husband accepts me, and lets me travel and be a member of parliament, then who are you not to accept me?"

Yet she acknowledges that some women parliamentarians may end up supporting mahram-e sharaii, if it ever is introduced as a bill. "There are lots of women in Parliament against this, but they have to support it, because people will say, 'You are not our representative, get out of Parliament.' "

The Constitution of Afghanistan does not explicitly mention Sharia, but does say "no law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan." Does this mean that no individual shall be permitted to contravene those tenets? Seems not, as it does provide that non-Moslems shall be able to practice their religion. Still, as Ms. Safi noted above, Afghanistan's seems like the kind of representative democracy in which restrictions on women's rights might be more than welcome.

[Link via Rational Review.]

NEXT: Proustian Wars

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. And outraged post from Jennifer in 5… 4… 3… 2…

  2. We need Francine Smith to strip down to a bikini and sing a song about how it sucks to be a woman in Afghanistan.

  3. “And outraged post from Jennifer in 5… 4… 3… 2…”

    funny, that’s just what i came here expecting to find.

  4. I am outraged!

    (Never let it be said I let my fans down.)

  5. In all seriousness, I wish these medieval dumbasses would learn the difference between what is allowed and what is required. Even if you are not required to have a male chaperone whenever you go out, you’re still welcome to take a man along with you whenever you leave the house. Just like laws allowing women to dress in a Western style don’t mean you can’t still wear tents in public if you want.

  6. For what it’s worth, I am also outraged.

  7. This would be bad enough on its own, but we should remember that this particular government was created by our own, and that at least one of the reasons given for overthrowing the Taliban was to improve the lot of Afghan women. Just bloody great.

  8. For what it’s worth, I am also outraged.

    I’m like WAY more outraged then like you are. Like totally.

  9. For what it’s worth, I am also outraged.

    Me too.

    Yet another example of why democracy is not to be confused with freedom.

  10. I volunteer to be a chaperone.

  11. This would be bad enough on its own, but we should remember that this particular government was created by our own, and that at least one of the reasons given for overthrowing the Taliban was to improve the lot of Afghan women. Just bloody great.

    At least Afghan women aren’t any worse off than they were before we arrived. Iraqi women are.

  12. At least Afghan women aren’t any worse off than they were before we arrived. Iraqi women are.

    True, and deeply depressing. For what it’s worth, count me as outraged on both counts.

  13. True, Jennifer. And although I share the required outrage at hearing this, I am somewhat encouraged by the fact that there are women in parliament. The fact that women can be elected and make laws make the chaperone rule a bit ludicrous, and I would hope that will become increasingly clear to Afghanis.

    Baby steps!

  14. Sad. Outraged. Before the Russians, urban Afghan women were quite western in their freedoms, though the women in the provinces were not. I hate that we’re going backward, not forward. What can we do to help?

  15. Yet she acknowledges that some women parliamentarians may end up supporting mahram-e sharaii, if it ever is introduced as a bill.

    There’s a thing about addiction recovery, where a junky won’t get better no matter how much help you provide, until they help themselves.

    Stories like this make me think of their country as the junky who’s not quite ready to clean up his act, but who says they want to get clean.

    I believe these women when they say they don’t want to support it, but they feel they have to as representatives, but what can we as a country do to help them if they are not able and/or ready to help themselves?

    Or, to put it another way, I share the outrage, with a side of helplessness.

  16. Relax. You may have skimmed this part in your haste to be outraged and pessimistic:

    Because mahram-e sharaii has not been introduced as a bill, it is impossible to know just how much parliamentarian support it has.

  17. Where is the difference between style and culture?

    From pictures I’ve seen most women wore hats with veils as well as gloves almost everywhere outside in the 40s and 50s. I’ve heard often enough from my mom that married women were not hired or encouraged to work, and unmarried women had a limited set of wiorking options. Our culture seems to ahve evolved away from most of those practices in the past 50 years.

    Should we allow other cultures time to evolve as well? What happens if they do not evolve within 50 years?

  18. So, what if Jack Abramoff invites female Afghan parliamentarians on a junket? Is he required to invite their male chaperones as well?

  19. Just like laws allowing women to dress in a Western style don’t mean you can’t still wear tents in public if you want.

    There’s the rub! If you give people a choice, some people might choose wrong! And then think of what happens when some of the women choose wrong, without consequences? Other women will be emboldened to try the wrong choice and see if they like it. Soon a majority of these women will choose to not wear tents — Oh the horror!

  20. From pictures I’ve seen most women wore hats with veils as well as gloves almost everywhere outside in the 40s and 50s. I’ve heard often enough from my mom that married women were not hired or encouraged to work, and unmarried women had a limited set of wiorking options. Our culture seems to ahve evolved away from most of those practices in the past 50 years.

    Even so, women who didn’t wear a hat or gloves didn’t have acid thrown in their faces. More importantly (and this is what truly bothers me about burkas and abayas, despite the fact that my own mode of dress is usually very conservative by American standards), at no point in American history were women required to wear clothing which completely wiped out their individuality. Put ten women in hats and gloves, and you can still tell them all apart. Put ten women in burkas and their individuality is gone.

    As for waiting for other aspects of the culture to evolve, I think American women in the 50s had a huge advantage over Afghan women now. First of all, at no point in American history were women denied as much freedom as Afghan women are now, and secondly, during World War Two many women did, in fact, work outside the home to take the place of men at war. This “planted seeds,” shall we say, which have not been planted in Afghanistan.

    And finally, there is a huge difference between “women are discouraged from working outside the home” and “women are forbidden to leave the home under any circumstances whatsoever.”

  21. Good points, thx!

  22. Alternate plan for transforming the world:

    Instead of pursuing regime change on our own, I suggest that we simply give every woman in the Middle East and Central Asia a handgun and a lot of ammo. Let nature take its course.

    I actually felt that way even back when I considered myself a lefty. My colleagues thought I was crazy.

  23. Instead of pursuing regime change on our own, I suggest that we simply give every woman in the Middle East and Central Asia a handgun and a lot of ammo. Let nature take its course.

    I’ve always believed that doing the same to every African (male or female) is the best way to solve their kleptocracy issue.

    And to every Chinese citizen to solve their repression issue.

    And to every North Korean citizen to solve their repression issue.

    And to…

  24. Did anyone else read “Florence of Arabia?” Christopher Buckley recommends women’s liberation as the route to peace in the Middle East. I highly recommend, and wish more members of our administration read it.

    50’s clothing: Jennifer nailed the point, but I’d like to add that I think the Dior New Look was as beautiful as women’s clothing can get. See Grace Kelly in “Rear Window” wearing Edith Head versions of that style. WOW. I’ve searched 20 years for a version of that green and white suit. Nothing like the bedsheets imposed in Afghanistan, and I promise not to stray from the thread anymore.

  25. Hmm … lock away exactly half of the country’s brain trust. I guess they aren’t in any hurry to move out of the Iron Age.

  26. At least Afghan women aren’t any worse off than they were before we arrived. Iraqi women are.

    Linky?

    I hadn’t heard that the new state-sponsored rape squads were exceeding the pace of their Saddamite predecessors. I do seem to recall a poll saying that a majority of Iraqis thought they were better off without Hussein.

  27. I do seem to recall a poll saying that a majority of Iraqis thought they were better off without Hussein.

    Linky?

  28. I hadn’t heard that the new state-sponsored rape squads were exceeding the pace of their Saddamite predecessors. I do seem to recall a poll saying that a majority of Iraqis thought they were better off without Hussein.

    Allow me then to clarify, RC: certain individual Iraqi women are much better off now than they were under Saddam. Despite these many notable and important exceptions, the majority of Iraqi women are finding their individual freedoms more restricted than before, in that it is no longer safe for women to do “decadent Western things” like leave the house unaccompanied, associate with men who are not related to them, or wear decadent Western clothing which negates the individuality I stressed in my previous post at 5:01.

    But I repeat that despite the overall reduction in women’s freedom since our arrival, thanks to us there are a lot of women who are now much better off than they were before.

  29. I would also like to take this chance to state that at any point in the past, present or future, when I speak of a generalization like “Saudi guys do this” or “military guys do that,” I am well aware of the many individuals who defy statistics and act, think and find themselves in environments different from the norm.

    When I say “Americans have to work to make a living,” I realize that there are many Americans who are actually free of this responsibility.

    I also realize that not all black guys dance like this: (hip, stylish moves), and not all white guys dance like this: (dorky and wearing golf pants).

  30. Jennifer, in my experience the only white guys under age 60 who dance in any form other than dorky-in-golf-pants are gay.

    Violating my promise to stay on thread: guys who can dance well are babe magnets. Ballroom or Latin dance classes are excellent places to meet women, plus you get to learn the tango.

  31. Linky?

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/3515884.stm

    Jennifer raises a number of interesting questions:

    Where are these religious restrictions on women being enforced now, where they weren’t under Hussein? Have the semi-autonomous Kurds gone all sharia on us? Have the secular Sunnis? How widespread is the phenomenon in the Shiite sector?

    Who is enforcing these religious restrictions? Are they largely a matter of a profoundly conservative/backwards “civil” society (paging gaius marius!) reasserting itself? If so, should the state interfere with this expression of civil society? Are organs of the state actually enforcing this neo-sharia?

    Once you get a feel for the depth, breadth, and post-Saddam novelty of this neo-sharia movement in Iraq, how does it compare with the totalitarian terror of the Saddam regime?

    I think we are a long way from being able to conclude that there has been an overall reduction in women’s freedom in Iraq.

  32. Jennifer,

    But I repeat that despite the overall reduction in women’s freedom…

    Keep spreading this myth and some people might actually believe it. Whatever secularism that Saddam’s regime practiced before the 1990s was gone by that decade. There was a general retrenchment of women’s rights in Iraq from 1991 onward as Saddam tried to court the religiously conservative elements of his society and the middle east in general.

    R.C. Dean,

    I think we are a long way from being able to conclude that there has been an overall reduction in women’s freedom in Iraq.

    Well, you’ll never convince Jennifer of that because she’s unwilling to do any research which goes past her own preconceived notions.

    Karen,

    Irshad Mandi sees women’s liberation as a key to transforming the middle east. So does General Abizaid. Of course authors like David Landes and others were writing about this before 9/11.

  33. Karen,

    Irshad Manji

  34. Holy christ it looks Jennifer and Karen are turning into some kind of Hit&Run tag team.

    More sports commentary at 11…

  35. Kudos to Douglas Fletcher for not saying “double team.”

  36. Does anyone remember when libertarians were a generally optimistic bunch?
    I do. It was way back when Virginia Postrel ran the show here.

    Nothing personal. Just an observation. Carry on.

  37. Ed,

    I believe domestic politics (and the psychological need of some have the Bush administration fail) has shortcircuited the clear thinking we would otherwise have on topics like this. One has to ask, would a woman in Afghanistan survived such a statement as this (of course note that she wouldn’t have been a member of Afghanistan’s Parliament):

    Zeefunun Safi, another parliamentarian, agrees. “If my husband accepts me, and lets me travel and be a member of parliament, then who are you not to accept me?”

  38. Ed,

    In other words, its right and proper to castigate these fucks for their attitudes, but drawing the conclusion that things are headed for doom in Afghanistan displays more of a choice about who you dislike in the Oval Office than it does a real appreciation of the progress in Afghanistan. Plus, on a more practical note, it doesn’t help Afghan women at all to simply wail in the darkness about how dark it is.

  39. Hakluyt, thanks for the tip on the authors. I’d read David Landes “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” which has a little on this in it. I’ll have to look up the other guys.

    On optimism, one of my favorite books is called “The Idea of Decline in Western History,” by Arthur Herman. It’s a fascinating discussion about the philosophy of decline, and, implicitly, how that idea is flatly contradicted by the available facts. This book went nowhere when it came out ten years ago, so I take every remotely relevant chance I can get to plug it.

    On this situation, I think that eventually logic and a general desire on the part of most of the populace to live in something other than a reprise of the Bronze Age will win out, and they will accept women’s rights. If a belief in fundamental justice won’t do it, then greed for Western goods will. Still, it’s depressing in the short term that the thugs seem to be winning, especially with our soldiers over there upholding what order there is.

  40. Karen Cox,

    Cool. I’ll see if I can find a copy at the local used book store.

    Ed,

    One has to ask, would a woman in Afghanistan survived such a statement as this six years ago

  41. Karen Cox,

    Oh, I should say that General Abizaid is the commander of U.S. military forces in the middle east (CENTCOM is the official acronym for his title). He’s made a number of speeches where he has forthrightly addressed the female freedom deficit in Islamic societies.

  42. I have a good friend who practically runs a fan club for Gen. Abazaid, who, based on Lee’s evidence, seems like a genuinely decent guy and unbelievably knowledgeable about the region. I’m glad to hear about the speeches on women’s rights, though. Not discussing this is a major failing on Lee’s part, which I will require him to address.

    I feel the need to explain why I only use my first name before about 7:30. My employer is quite cool about Internet surfing, but I don’t want to be the one who inspires a change in that policy. Thus, only the first name until I get home. Thanks for letting me share that.

  43. Brian Doherty,

    …”no law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan.”

    Well, in an Islamic culture which recognizes that problems in interpreting and understanding the Qu’ran this may not be that big of a problem. I myself would perfer them not to have such language in their constitution, but it seems to me that working to create liberal interpretations of Islamic law may be a more workable short term tactic than simply trying to go full throttle secularist. And this is coming from someone who in general finds religious belief to be quite irrational.

  44. Hakluyt, I agree with you. That’s basically the way things happened here in the West, so it seems reasonable for the rest of the world, too. Besides, the benefits of finding a liberal form of Islam are so enormous it should be pursued as a goal anyway.

  45. Karen: guys who can dance well are babe magnets. Ballroom or Latin dance classes are excellent places to meet women, plus you get to learn the tango.

    You say that, but my teammates, at least, are all taken, largely by other dancers (so maybe it does work, just had to be before this year).

    And foxtrot is way cooler than tango. At least you weren’t encouraging people to try the damn Rumba, though…

  46. Put ten women in hats and gloves, and you can still tell them all apart. Put ten women in burkas and their individuality is gone.

    Their individuality is gone, but you can still see the wealth if you look closely. No, they don’t have huge Nike swooshes emblazoned across the back, but there are subtle indications that some women spent a shitload of money to purchase that designer tent.

  47. Afghanistan’s seems like the kind of representative democracy in which restrictions on women’s rights might be more than welcome.

    We all know that Jennifer is outraged, but who’s surprised?

    We aren’t exporting individual rights, we’re exporting democracy. Democracy, in and of itself, is an assinine concept. What you get from a democracy are things like the war on drugs (no relation to making women wear tents).

    [OTOH, Muslims may actually be more practical than Westerners — I could see certain advantages to an arrangement where I knew that any women I encountered in the desert would be carrying a tent with them]

    Democracy, by itself, is a sure and certain way to destroy individual rights in a nation. But our leaders don’t say that to anyone in the ME because…..well, never mind all that.

    Our culture seems to ahve evolved away from most of those practices in the past 50 years.

    Mainly because of economic changes. WWII helped, but it also became increasinly possible for women to go out and support themselves. Digging ditches and other hard manual labor were no longer the predominant career choices.

    When (if?) a capitalist Industrial Revolution reaches the ME, women’s rights will get real. Even individual rights might start getting real.

    But for now, the only career tracks for Afghan women are growing poppy seeds and making tents. [ah ha, there is a relation]

  48. Karen,

    “The Idea of Decline in Western History,” by Arthur Herman

    Thanks, I’ll check it out. But don’t let gauis marius read it. I suspect that if he does, we’ll hear this little *pop* and poor gauis will be no more.

  49. Hak,

    “The Idea of Decline in Western History,” by Arthur Herman

    They’ve got it used on Amazon.

  50. Come to think of it, those Mulsims really are smarter than we think. Getting a sunburned ass is no fun. You gotta have a tent if you live in the desert.

  51. kahn,

    Yes, gm would definately have a fit over a book like that.

  52. This would be bad enough on its own, but we should remember that this particular government was created by our own,

    Umm, no. In this aspect at least, the govt of Afghanistan was created by the Afghani people.

    We aren’t exporting individual rights, we’re exporting democracy. Democracy, in and of itself, is an assinine concept. What you get from a democracy are things like the war on drugs (no relation to making women wear tents).

    Well, you know what Winston Churchill said about democracy being the worst system of govt, except all the others. We basically have two choices of governance in Iraq and Afghanistan: they can be ruled by the American govt, or by a homegrown govt. Any homegrown govt in a society as conservative as Iraq’s or Afghanistan’s is going to curtail individual liberties more than our society does.

    Perhaps these societies will grow more free as time progresses, or perhaps not. One thing we can be certain of, though, is that if we impose colonial rule on them, they will never grow more free.

  53. Does anyone remember when libertarians were a generally optimistic bunch? I do. It was way back when Virginia Postrel ran the show here.

    Yeah, and the economy was way better too. And air travel was a lot less of a hassle. Who knew that Reason changing editors could have such an impact on the world? 😉

  54. “…my own mode of dress is usually very conservative by American standards”

    It’s a good thing! Combined with your magnificent brain, dressing like a floozy would cause riots. Hehey.

  55. “Who knew that Reason changing editors could have such an impact on the world?”

    A neocon takeover will tend to do that to everything. (relax editors it’s a joke)

  56. Well, you know what Winston Churchill said about democracy being the worst system of govt, except all the others.

    I could see a really inspired, strong constitution, applied by a diminutive government of unelected technocrats working as well or better than what we’ve got. Not like most folks vote anyway.

  57. It depends on what type of democracy we’re exporting. If we’re exporting the “50.0001% is good enough!” brand then the Afghans might be in for a short but nasty ride before the thing collapses.

    If we export a system where the government is answerable to the people, subject to internal checks and balances, and constrained by enumerated powers and the notion of fundamental rights, then things might work somewhat better. If they’re lucky it will take at least several decades for the “inter-province commerce clause” to morph into a blank check.

    I don’t know that we can really impose the second model without rigging a Constitutional convention. Which is hardly consistent with allowing self-rule.

    I recall hearing that after WWII the Allied powers imposed certain conditions on the West German and Japanese Constitutions. IIRC, bicameralism was one of the conditions. I assume that enumerated rights were also on the list. Can anybody tell me if that was the case, or how it was done? Maybe there is a middle road between rigging a Constitutional Convention and just allowing a mess to spiral out of control. Or maybe there isn’t.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.