Sveto’s Blog

We can’t wait – We have to end Afghanistan’s harmful gender stereotypes now

Date: Monday, 19 August 2019

Author: Sveto Muhammad Ishoq

Sveto Muhammed Ishoq. Photo: Joshua Charles Woodard
Sveto Muhammed Ishoq. Photo: Joshua Charles Woodard

Afghanistan has known war for more than four decades, and it has brought a lot of damage to society, especially in terms of the gender inequality that has become a part of every Afghan woman’s life. Many women who suffered all these years have now passed away. Those alive are unable to voice their thoughts about their experiences. Others almost believe that they are indeed nothing but a piece of meat.

It’s time to stop gender discrimination in Afghanistan. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 was an important step towards women’s empowerment. Afghanistan also needs to take such a step to reduce gender inequality, so that it can make progress in areas such as poverty, education and violence.

Afghan men traditionally have believed that they are the providers of the family, and that women are made only for the kitchen. But women should also be able to help support their homes and their children. They should have the right to work in an office. They should have the right to a basic education. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimated 80 per cent of Afghan women are illiterate. This shows how much they are underprivileged in our society, even denied the right to read and write. This problem again can be solved through initiatives such as those taken at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. We need similar conferences to advance women’s rights and adopt policies that are implementable and realistic.

I grew up in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and studied there through the ninth grade. When I moved to Kabul in 2009, I was shocked to see so many women suffering. I saw women who were the breadwinners of their families waiting in the cold weather after getting 10 afghanis (12 U.S. cents) to buy bread for their children. I saw women harassed on the streets, and if they said something, the blame would fall on them. I saw women facing a lot of challenges and difficulties in the patriarchal society. This made my heart sink, and I asked myself, “Why should they suffer?”

All the stereotypes about women were created through all these years of war and devastation. But now is the time to move toward a more positive future for women. This is especially important as the United States is now engaged in peace talks with the Taliban, raising fears that women’s rights will again be severely violated.

The Government has done a lot to protect the rights of women, including by enacting laws such as the Elimination of Violence against Women law and providing women with job opportunities.

Social awareness is another way to fight against stereotypes of women, especially in rural areas where women are subjected to so much violence. One of the best ways is to work with religious leaders to promote basic rights women should enjoy. The religious leaders should discuss women’s rights and raise awareness about it in mosques and other places.

By educating both men and women, we can change the lives of people forever, especially those women who have suffered for decades because stereotypes prevented them from living as ordinary human beings. By educating both men and women through workshops and seminars, and promoting women’s rights through TV and advertising, we can make people more aware.

If more Afghan women and girls were allowed by their husbands, fathers or brothers to go to school, they would not suffer in this cruel way. The media should enthusiastically help make our country a better place for women.

In Afghanistan, women are not aware of their basic rights, and thus struggle for their dignity. And so we have cases like that of Farkhunda, who was lynched by a mob after extremists claimed that she had burned the Qur’an, and Reza Gul, whose husband cut off her nose and tried to shoot her after she demanded a divorce because he had violently abused her.

I love what the famous American writer and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou once said: “I am a feminist. I’ve been female for a long time now. I’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”

I am feminist because I want to protect the rights of women, especially those living in rural areas who are not aware of their basic rights. We should change the minds of people who think women are made only for the kitchen and for raising children.

We should be able to live and breathe in peace without fear of being harassed or treated as subordinates to men who think they have authority over us.

We, the women of Afghanistan, are too fed up and tired to tolerate this treatment anymore. We want change! Right here, right now!

Sveto Muhammad Ishoq

Sveto Muhammad Ishoq, 25, runs a social enterprise in Kabul that is focused on women’s economic empowerment through fashion. As Afghanistan’s first Schwarzman Scholar, she did her master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. She completed her business administration degree at American University of Afghanistan on a full scholarship from the United States Embassy. Sveto promotes women’s rights through her writing for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, the Anna May Project, and Star Educational Society’s Interstellar Bulletin Newspaper. She also has volunteered for many projects such as Everywoman Everywhere, where she worked on an International Treaty on Violence against Women.

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