Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, December 17th, 2018

Afghan Women – The Nation’s Flag-bearers

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Afghan Women – The Nation’s Flag-bearers

Women played a constructive role in the community and the names of heroines are recorded in the history for their active role and heroic acts. Women supported men during wars and heartened them to fight for the protection of their national values and human dignity at the cost of their lives. Although the patriarchal system and parochial mindsets, which are deeply embedded in Afghans’ culture, restricted the women’s role and marginalized them from social and political activities, the prominent role of women is undeniable.
The 18-year-old Afghan national heroine Malalai of Maiwand – who rallied local people fighters against the British troops in 1880 Battle of Maiwand led by Muhammad Ayyob Khan – will be kept alive in the heart of our history. Sustaining heavy casualties by British forces, Afghan fighters lost their morale and Afghan flag-bearer was also killed. Malalai took the flag and recited patriotic poetry which prompted Afghans not to abandon the battle. Her blood was also spilt in the battlefield – the blood of an Afghan woman reddened the country’s soil for its protection. The blood of woman shed in the battlefield? Incredible! 
Yes, she was the woman who sought to be the flag-bearer of her nation. Afghan women are not afraid of death the same as men when national values are vulnerable to harm or erosion. In the 1879 war against the British forces in Kabul, four hundred women supported men in bringing them food and drink and 43 women, out of four hundred, were killed. In the meantime, the love story of Abdullah and Zahra circulated. The two lovers had a matrimonial ceremony and henna party – in which the hands of bride and groom were hennaed. Zahra said, with sneer, that Afghan men had gone to battlefield for Jihad and Abdullah was celebrating his henna party. Abdullah confirmed her statement and left the party for the battlefield. The next day, the dead body of Abdullah was brought and laid before his only old mother. Zahra, his fiancée, gave Abdullah’s hennaed finger a kiss. Condoling to Abdullah’s mother, Zahra said that she would be as her daughter and stay with her for the whole life, due to Abdullah’s selfless act, without marrying anyone else and she did so.  
Moreover, women, including Queen Soraya Tarzi, took active part in social and cultural arenas during Amanullah Khan’s regime and ran the Ershad Neswan Journal (1922). In a gathering, when Soraya talked about the development and progressive movement of women around the world and regressive movement of Afghan women, women shed bitter tears and 50 women volunteered, forthwith, to engage in educational activities and founding the first female school (Mastoorat School).
It is worth mentioning that the reformations of King Amanullah Khan passed two periods: The first stage (1919 – 1924) was highly fruitful despite reactionary powers and foreign plots. However the second stage, which reached its peak in 1927, came to a standstill. Afghan nation welcomed the reformation with open arm and never protested against modernization and progressive movement – the rumors, suggesting that Afghans are against modernization and progress, reflect the nation negatively. The main reason behind public protest against Amanullah’s regime is believed to be his men who, lately, resorted to violence and corruption. The public discontent paved the way for Amanullah’s political opponents fish in troubled waters. Therefore, they muddied the issue through spreading propaganda against his regime and urged the so-called clergy to condemn the reformation via issuing religious decree. Moreover, Soraya’s half-naked photos were designed and spread among the people stating that she presented the same on her trip to Europe – these bogus claims were made to cause a sensation against Amanullah’s regime and his reformation. The poisonous propaganda and officials’ cruelty triggered insurgency and brought the reformation to a standstill. Subsequently, a Jirga (Assembly) was held in Paghman (1924) in which women were restricted within four walls and banned from going to school, marrying underage girls were allowed, etc. So, women’s rights and freedoms were curtailed under religious terms – it was a blow to reformation and democratic movements and women took the brunt of this harm.
Following this issue, Afghan women were marginalized and confined within the patriarchal system. They were discriminated on the grounds of their sex and had to wear burqa while presenting in public. The parochial mindsets of the reactionaries narrowed the cultural restrictions regarding women and deemed them as inferior creature. To women’s unmitigated chagrin, their social, cultural and political role declined. The restrictions continued after the downfall of Amanullah’s regime.
Moreover, the Taliban regime also treated women as an inferior creature and imposed strict rules on them. Afghan women had to wear burqa (a head-to-toe covering for women) and were not allowed to present in public without chaperon. Encountering with the radical ideology of dictatorial regimes and their discriminatory rules, Afghan women were marginalized and many took the desires of being the nation’s flag-bearer to the grave with them.

Currently, although Afghan women play active part in social and political ground, the Taliban fighters still pose threat to them and spill their blood to deter them and impose their ideology on them. It is hoped that Afghan women will be able to exercise their rights and freedoms under the nascent democracy and the state will have to empower them and protect their life and liberty.

Hujjattullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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