"I am caged in this corner full of melancholy and sorrow ... my wings are closed and I cannot fly ... I am an Afghan woman and so must wail." --Nadia Anjuman
Imagine getting poisoned for trying to go to school. This is a reality for girls in Afghanistan. Last night I watched a rerun of a documentary by CNN reporter Saira Shah, "Beneath the Veil." This 2001 show conveys the horrible injustice and prejudice toward women happening there. This was not my first time seeing "Behind the Veil." It made me cry, again.
I felt guilty sitting in my luxurious house watching this evil injustice on my flat screen television. I can understand why people in other countries despise Americans when you compare our blessed freedoms to their overwhelming lack of basic human needs. I can't explain this socioeconomic gap in fairness. I sit in my bed, gripping the remote control in the dark, wondering what in the world I can do for all these people who have nothing and may hate me simply because of where I was born.
In this documentary, Afghan women are covered like dead people. One good way to enslave people is to make them invisible, and take away their education. This image of a woman covered up and ignored in this way angers me.
There are different cultural and traditional interpretations of the style of burqas. The Chadri, invented by a male ruler who did not want other men to look at his wives, covers the head, like in the picture above. Local warlords still force women to wear the Chadri in Southern Afghanistan. Is this style of burqa an extremist interpretation of modest dress? Here's what I found when I looked up the definition of the garb:
"Many Muslims believe that the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, and the collected traditions of the life of Muhammed, or hadith, require both men and women to dress and behave modestly in public. However, this requirement, called hijab, has been interpreted in many different ways by Islamic scholars (ulema) and Muslim communities (see Women and Islam); the burqa is not specifically mentioned in the Quran." -from Answers.com
I love my country, and I am so grateful that I can vote, and wear a tee shirt if I want. I agree that the burqa can be beautiful. I've seen women wear burqas made from elaborately embroidered fine silk in my own country. It does take the focus off a woman's body, which is actually a relief when there is such pressure about being perfect in Western culture. However, I don't understand the purpose of the Chadri burqa, (a robe with a tiny slit for the eyes). It seems so oppressive to me. Although I do believe in appropriate, modest dress, if I went to Afghanistan in my jeans and Old Navy tee I'd be arrested for indecent exposure! I think it's wrong to cover your body that much. It's uncomfortable and mean. Why do women have to hide their bodies like that? God made women, and my understanding of the Book of Genesis, from a modern-urban Catholic perspective, is that He said it was all good.
It is my opinion that when it comes to intellectual, spiritual and emotional strength, men and women have equal potential. All human beings should be allowed to educate themselves. I am inspired by the women teachers of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, who risk their lives working in schools where the roof is literally crumbing down on them. Then I read the anti-United States government propaganda on their website and I'm saddened. Intolerance, war, random acts of violence create such a mess, and a web of hate. It's hard to find a solution or see past old ways of thinking.
In the school yards of Afghanistan girls are playing and laughing, their smiling faces tilted up toward the sun. This is hopeful.
My thoughts move back to my question:
What can I do to help people, like the women of Afghanistan, who are fighting for basic human rights?
What can I do, one small American human spoiled by the freedoms that my relatives and neighbors gave their lives to obtain for me, a woman whose father and mother encouraged to go to college and secure a career? Me: a silly pampered girl who enjoyed the luxury of marrying for love, who lounges in the the hot sun in a bikini, not a burqa, who would be dead for writing this blog in Afghanistan.
Well, I can send money to support charities that help families there. I can pray for the women, children, men of Afghanistan and countries with similar hardships, even though many extremists there hate me, would kill me in a nanosecond, and supported the murder of my husband's relative in the 9-11 attacks. I can try to understand Islam and how it has been misinterpreted and twisted into something ugly, just like my own religion has been by some. I think this is a place to start in helping those girls who are dying to learn.
Picture is from ViolinSoldier's on Flickr