Despite our advances in science, technology, and living standards, I have learnt first-hand that many women are denied the opportunities arising from such progress. Some are denied even the most fundamental rights, imprisoned by a religion whose tenets call for their protection.
I have long been concerned with the terrible plight of Afghani women, who have been subjected to inhumane conditions by their “liberators,” the Taleban. Women in Afghanistan are refused an education, banned from working, and denied freedom of movement. As a woman, I find such treatment unacceptable. As a Muslim, I have always been taught that Islam preaches equality, not the humiliation and torture of women. Unfortunately, the Taleban’s treatment of women is not entirely foreign to me. In my native Pakistan, women are often said to live “sheltered” lives; the term is nothing more than a euphemism for “living in a prison” — a gilded prison, perhaps, but a prison nonetheless.
Yet my situation could have been a lot worse had I been born on the other side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. I have heard several Afghani refugee women describe the brutalities which they endured at home. Last year, I volunteered at a camp on the outskirts of Karachi. The camp was a fly-infested, rubbish-strewn hellhole. Dirty, unkempt children played in the dust, and emaciated women sat starting into the distance. There I met a refugee called Ferooza, and I asked her why they put up with these depressing, unsanitary conditions instead of trying to improve their surroundings. Ferooza’s answer shocked me, but in retrospect I realize that to her, life after Afghanistan held no meaning. Her words still ring in my ears:
“After the Soviets left, we thought we could finally be a free people. How wrong we were!” She laughed bitterly. “The Soviets were nothing compared to the Taleban. I had a job then, a family then, a life then. Under the Taleban I have nothing. They stoned my son in front of me — for listening to music! My daughter—” she started sobbing, and I held her. “They raped her in front of me,” she continued. “She was just fifteen. The local Mullah said that his men were not at fault. He claimed my daughter had acted promiscuous by not wearing a veil and had gotten what she deserved.” At this point, Ferooza broke down, and I found myself unable to hold back my own tears.
I didn’t go back to the camp for a long time after I meet Ferooza — I couldn’t face the horrors. When I finally regained the courage and returned to the camp, I was told that Ferooza had died just a few weeks earlier; the other women whispered that she simply lost the will to live.
My sadness is accompanied by a fear that such brutalities will become matter-of-fact. But I have developed a firm conviction: I want to do something to help these women — not hide from them, as I did with Ferooza. I am determined to make a difference, and now I know that even individual effort makes a world of difference.