Is this the moderate Islam that we are fighting FOR in that waste land of a desert. The land is as much of a waste as the hearts of the people who inhabit it. The people who we are CURRENTLY shedding our blood for? This is a loosing battle.
The Burqa is oppressive and the only reason that women in those countries LIKE it is because it HIDES them.
The women in those places are fighting for their freedom to remove the Burqa while these women in the west who know nothing of men’s oppression over their counter parts in the Middle East think that the Burqa is somehow LIBERATION?
GARMSIR, Afghanistan — As a rule, Maleka Helmandi puts on her burqa before leaving the house. It would be unthinkable not to, like a woman in the U.S. going topless to the supermarket.
She hates the all-enveloping cloak that most Afghan women must wear if they venture outside their homes. It’s suffocating, she said, “like I have asthma.”
But Helmandi has even more reason than most Afghan women to put on her burqa. Since becoming one of four women on the Helmand provincial council, Helmandi has received warnings and death threats — from Taliban callers who read her passages from the Quran, and from relatives who believe she shames them.
“My husband’s cousin told him, ‘Kill your wife, and I’ll give you a daughter,’ ” Helmandi said. “We are fighting even our own families.”
In the dangerous world she and a very few other women are now trying to navigate — as members of government and vocal proponents of women’s rights in Afghanistan’s most conservative province — the burqa also offers protection.
“The only benefit of the burqa is that nobody knows who you are,” said Sharifa, a provincial government worker with only one name.
But for a day last month, with an escort of U.S. Marines, Helmandi and three other Afghan women were free, able to shed their burqas for a visit to Garmsir, a town in their province.
It felt wonderful, they said, with only their hair covered and the sun on their faces.
Helmandi, Sharifa, her sister Karima and a woman named Bibi Laiga left their homes in the district capital, Lashkar Gah, for a tour of the town’s hospital, meetings with local officials and, separately, local women.
The event was part of a larger Marine effort to connect the Afghan people with their nascent government. It was also one of the attempts by Regional Command-Southwest civil affairs and female engagement teams to reach out to some of the most isolated and powerless women in the country — gingerly, in hopes of not creating a backlash.
“That’s not an issue we press terribly hard,” said Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, RC-Southwest commander. “That’s got to come from them. This is their culture, and you have to respect it.”
Yet the four Afghan women do not respect the way their culture treats them.
Helmandi blames Afghanistan’s many ills on those who hold the power — men — and their utter disregard for women. The country’s maternal mortality rate, for instance — among the world’s highest — isn’t due to the lack of modern medicine, she said.
“It’s their husbands’ fault. They don’t want to save their lives,” she said, so they don’t bring their wives to a clinic or midwife for childbirth.
“They have one, two, three wives,” Helmandi said. “When they don’t like their first wife anymore, they marry their second wife.”
Education is key
Helmandi and the two sisters trained as teachers and hold associates degrees. They managed to do so where most women don’t, and despite years of Taliban rule that forced them out of school.
And they managed it mostly, they said, because of their fathers.
Their fathers valued education and valued them, they said, and were disinclined to marry them off at 12 or even younger, as is common in Helmand.
“We didn’t even have food, but our father never thought of giving us away for the money,” said Sharifa, 28. She and Karima, 26, have never married. Their family fled to Pakistan when the Taliban came to power, the women said, and suffered many economic hardships before returning to Afghanistan after 2001.
Sharifa, who works for the provincial director of the Women’s Affairs and Mercy Corps, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, now wants to empower her fellow women — “To teach them to stand for their rights. They think they can’t do anything,” she said.
Now 32, Helmandi attended school uninterrupted until the 10th grade.
“It was a golden life, to be educated,” she said. Then, most of the country fell to the Taliban, who forbade girls from going to school. “It’s one of my worst memories,” she said.
She returned home, married a chicken farmer, had seven children and waited.
Seven years later, the Taliban fell to U.S. forces. Helmandi finished her education and then taught school.
“If you see a woman with a job, she is fighting, like us,” she said.
It wasn’t the Taliban, but Bibi Laiga’s grandfather who made her quit school after sixth grade. She was married at 13 to an army officer, she said, and had 13 children. At 52, she’s a great-grandmother many times over.
The key to progress for Afghanistan’s women, the women agreed, is education.
“An educated woman can take care of her children and her family,” Helmandi said.
And that’s what they told about 30 bedraggled local women gathered with their babies and toddlers in Garmsir. They met in a smelly, decrepit mud hut that had briefly held a girl’s school until the teacher, paid out of pocket by a Marine major and never reliable, quit showing up.
But it was a start.
“Just coming out of their home is a step forward,” Sharifa said.
Making a difference
When Helmandi signed on as a candidate for the council, a cousin of her husband suggested he kill her. When her husband demanded that her name be removed from the list, officials told him it wasn’t possible, she said.
She had a surprising ally.
“My father-in-law supported me,” she said. “And my husband had to agree with his father.”
So she serves on the council, along with the three other women who were bold enough to run for the seats set aside for women in the 15-member legislative body elected by Helmand voters. “We have just four votes; we can’t get anything done,” she said.
Yet their presence on the council has made a difference. At first, their male colleagues wouldn’t even speak to them, the women said.
“Now we have good relations. Now they let their daughters go to school,” Helmandi said of the male council members. “That’s how we know we are succeeding.”
But it will take decades for Afghanistan’s women to start taking their rightful place, Helmandi said, and she dreads the prospect of U.S. forces leaving anytime soon.
“We won’t have peace,” Helmandi said. “They will take us out and they will kill us one by one.”