Afghanistan, basic rights and cultural imperialism

2023. It is time Afghanistan manned down and womaned up, embracing global values 

As-salaamu alaikhum! Respect for Islam... and another thing is cultural imperialism. A few years ago, prior to 2001, I had an argument with an Afghan woman about wearing the burkha, my position being that women should be free to walk around as they pleased. Her reply was food for thought: You are a cultural imperialist. Why shouldn’t I also be free to reveal myself only to my husband if that is what I want? And she was absolutely right.

But that is the point, “if that is what I want”.

I am sure many Afghans, and others, have issues with cultural imperialism, imposing values from above in a top-down arrogant atitude, deriding and disrespecting local customs, law and lore, insisting on western-style parliamentary democracies (how democratic is a Parliament, elected on manifestos which are then forgotten and with many of the members feathering their nests, connected to lobbies? Corporate hospitality, corruption). But cultural imperialism works both ways and includes religious bigotry.

Custom, lore and law

One thing is local customs and religion and another is global values enshrined in international law. One thing is the messages revealed to Mohammed and enshrined in the Qu’ran and another is using, abusing and warping these messages in the name of some religious Project which in fact is not based on the Qu’ran, it is based on the clerical class of the Pashtun people.

Global values

And foremost among global values which apply everywhere, are women’s rights. This has nothing to do with Islam, whose holy book the Qu’ran is very clear to set out women’s rights and respect for the involability of the person.

The Taliban disregard the Book whose teachings they purport to follow. Their version of Islam is a twisted version, a misquote; the Qu’ran states that if a family does not have the means to educate a boy and a girl, then the focus should be on giving an education to the daughter. The Qu’ran emphasises the importance of education for everybody, not just men and boys.

International law and obligations

And religion apart, under international law, women have the right to gender equality, meaning they have the right to education, on an equal level as men, meaning they have the right to choose and follow a career as men do, meaning they have full access to justice, meaning all forms of discriminatory laws must be repealed.  Under international law, women have the basic right to live free from discrimination of all forms. Under international law, all women and girls have the basic human right to full gender equality, to full political, social, legal and economic empowerment.

This means that women and girls everywhere under every government have the right to live free from any form of gender discrimination and have the right to freedom to attain whatever their goals may be, including education, ownership of property, the right to vote, to pursue any career and to earn an equal salary.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

Iqra (read) was the first word of the Qu’ran to be revealed.

Why, then, since August 2021 have the Taliban reneged on their pledge to respect full rights for women and girls? Why have women and girls been banned from accessing higher education, why have they been banned from working with NGOs, why have they been banned from working for the United Nations Organisation, why have they been denied access to certain public spaces?

If Afghanistan wishes to be seen as a full member of the United Nations Organisation, something it is striving to do, then the bottom line is that there are international norms to be followed. You are accepted into the fold of human beings if you behave like a human being.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey can be reached at [email protected]

The author welcomes a respectful dialogue with any reader who wishes to reply or engage and promises to post further articles presenting any conter-arguments.

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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey