For Afghan Woman, Justice Runs Into Unforgiving Wall of Custom

After seeing the recent article in the New York Times “For Afghan Women, Justice Runs Into Unforgiving Wall of Custom”, we were moved by the reminder that we need to be careful in the way we respond to other cultures and advancing women’s rights.

“…When we write or produce articles or movies on Afghan women, no matter how horrible the life of Afghan women is, and we know that is the reality of Afghan women, we want to be very careful not to make the situation worse,” said Samira Hamidi, country director of the Afghan Women’s Network.

“We don’t want to block the way for other women who have similar problems and who don’t have anyone to help them,” Ms. Hamidi said.

But to not show the plight of Afghan women is to reduce the possibility that the government and the society will ever change.

“It is our position in the human rights community that one of the best ways to highlight a human rights issue is to let the victims speak and to publicize what has happened to them to a wide audience,” said Georgette Gagnon, an official with the United Nations mission in Afghanistan.

The problem for Gulnaz and the other women in the film is the deeply held belief that women uphold their family’s honor. Thus any attempt to expose abuse is so humiliating to the family that a woman who speaks out often becomes a pariah among her relatives, ending up isolated as well as abused.

Gulnaz’s case shows the power of cultural norms. On the one hand, the public campaign for the woman prompted the pardon, which ensures that she will be able to bring up her daughter outside prison. On the other hand, the fact that the only imaginable solution to the situation of a woman with an illegitimate child is to have her marry the father — even if he is a rapist — is testament to the rigid belief here that a woman is respectable only if she is embedded within a family…

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