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How Would You Describe the Plight of Women in Afghanistan?

by Thaabit Kamaar

“How would you describe the plight of women in Afghanistan?” is a common question Nadima has been asked about Afghanistan.

Nadima is an Afghan-Canadian Humanitarian worker who is currently touring South Africa. She is a guest of Salaamedia and the South African National Muslim Women’s Forum.

In an interview with Ayanda Nyathi, presenter at Newzroom Afrika, Nadima spoke about her life and the challenges Afghans are facing, not men, not women but all Afghans.

But what about the women? What about their safety? What about their education? News reporters tend to focus on a familiar trope when asking about the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

A trope often used as a tool by media outlets to ensure that Afghanistan remains perceived in a negative light. “Women aren’t going to school,” they’d echo. Can they afford to send children to school? I suspect not with the economic sanctions and all that.

“How would you describe the plight of women in Afghanistan?” The irony of the question in this interview is astounding. Has violence against South African women been so normalized in society that it’s granted us the right to form an opinion on the condition of women in other countries?

We have one of the highest rape and murder rates in the world. Why are we condescending to others in interviews? Because we are conforming to the sensationalized subject matter? Or maybe we fear our reality regarding the rights and safety of women in our country.

“How would you describe the plight of women in Afghanistan?” he asked. According to South Africa’s crime statistics for the first quarter of 2022, 9,516 women were raped in their homes, public spaces, and public transport.

“How would you describe the plight of women in Afghanistan?” he asked. Within three months, Cele mentioned in his report, “South Africa was brutal and dangerous for women and children”. Between April and June, 855 women and 243 children were killed, with 11,000 GBH Assault cases reported, with females as victims.

“How would you describe the plight of women in Afghanistan?” he asked. When in July 2022, this year, eight women were robbed and brutally gang-raped near an abandoned mine dump in Krugersdorp while shooting a music video. Approximately 80 men were taken into custody after the terrible incident.

“How would you describe the plight of women in Afghanistan?” he asked. When schools are becoming unsafe environments for children. With reports of students, primarily females, being sexually abused by school staff or fellow students. Apart from school, children are still targeted by sexual predators such as Nicholas Ninow. He was sentenced to life in prison for raping a seven year old girl in a restaurant toilet in 2018.

“How would you describe the plight of women in Afghanistan?” he asked. When Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa, during his State of the Nation Address in 2020, stated the country was battling two pandemics, the Corona-Virus and Gender-Based Violence. The statement comes after the death of “no fewer than 21 people”, including women and children, during the lockdown period.

“How would you describe the plight of women in Afghanistan?” he asked. When Uyinene Mrwetyana was beaten, raped, had her body stored at the post office, and later burned by the perpetrator.

“How would you describe the plight of women in Afghanistan?” he asked. When South African women are stuck in a state of vigilance and paranoia, fearing their own shadows.

As high as those numbers are, the actual figure is higher. Many cases of sexual assault and GBV go unreported to the authorities. The reasons are that many fear stigmatization, not being believed, and in some cases, they are not reported to protect a relative or spouse.

We have this awful habit of placing accountability on women for the violence perpetrated against them. “Maybe if you didn’t wear revealing clothing, you wouldn’t have been raped, maybe if you didn’t talk back, he wouldn’t have hit you and Uncle or cousin wouldn’t touch you like that. You just want attention”.

It’s their fault for allowing vile men to commit despicable acts against them. We’d think this only happens to women of a certain age, race and body type. No, it does not. We find that grandmothers and older women are being raped and murdered by young men in society.

In our communities, women are kidnapped every week. Some leave home and never return. As a result, many of us with mothers, sisters, wives and daughters live in constant fear of their safety. Many of us discourage night travelling, walking alone in the street and being alone with a stranger, whether at someone’s home, work or elsewhere.

Multiple allegations have been reported by women who have been physically and sexually assaulted by Uber and Taxify drivers. Now, anytime they use either of these apps, we require their live location so that we may be able to watch over them.

The saddest part is that crimes against women are not exclusive to South Africa. Women all over the world are being targeted, shamed and exploited. Yet we choose to focus on Afghanistan’s past misdeeds when this is the current reality in South Africa.

And when someone like Nadima, who lives, breathes and eats in Afghanistan, comes along and says the Taliban are trying to make the country safer for women, we ignore that and jump to the next thing we can criticize them about.

So, instead of worrying about Afghanistan and the difficulties they are willing to remedy, the plight of women in South Africa seems a more significant concern to tackle.

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