Thursday, October 07, 2004
POLITICS AS USUAL: GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER
"Here's an amazing fact about the presidential election in Afghanistan. One of the candidates is a woman.
Nobody expects Massouda Jalal to win. Still, she's campaigning gamely. She dares to go outside unveiled. She has even addressed audiences of men in mosques. "Three years back, I couldn't imagine being a candidate for anything," she says. "Now I am running for president."
Another amazing fact is that Saturday's election is happening at all. Afghanistan must be the stoniest soil in the world for democracy and women's rights. Inequality is deeply rooted and, outside the capital, women are still chattel. Ninety per cent of them are illiterate. Far from the bright lights and Internet cafés of booming Kabul, the miserable lot of girls and women hasn't changed much since the Taliban were in charge -- or, for that matter, for the past several thousand years.
Women's rights may be enshrined in Afghanistan's new constitution, but nobody's talking about them in this election. One candidate was accused of blasphemy and almost kicked off the ballot because he dared to suggest that women might have an equal right to divorce. Another banned all women singers from television when he was minister of broadcasting. The most pro-women candidate is probably the bloodthirsty warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who likes to campaign from the saddle of a snorting stallion. His running mate is a woman. "When I am president, men and women will join to build up the country," he says.
Well, maybe some day. Right now, working for women's rights can still be fatal. Several female election workers have been raped or killed, and activist Sima Samar, the brave doctor who delivered illicit medical care to women in the days of the Taliban, has to travel with armed guards."
Next time someone tells you they can't be bothered to vote, slap them over the head for me.
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