helps to avoid every kind of disease caused by sexual promiscuity. But in democratic countries a woman can have illegal relations with many men, which causes many kinds of diseases.
Male PC member, urban Nangarhar
These statements clearly demonstrate the extent to which women are considered responsible for maintaining family honour and also a significant concern on the part of male respondents about what might happen if they were given the freedom experienced by Western women. With these perceptions in mind, it is unsurprising that there is a considerable resistance to the introduction of Western democracy given the perceived social upheaval that this might incur. Looking at women’s perspectives, however, a different narrative is apparent. While it is no less focused on Islam than their male counterparts, it is more concerned that the religion itself can be misinterpreted and in some cases needs to be clarified and its principles strengthened:
Democracy means freedom, so people should not wrongly take advantage of this freedom. Women should be given freedom according to the framework of Islam, in order that they might lawfully defend their rights. In our village women are always like servants. Can a woman be cured of her illnesses through spells and prayers? Our men are telling us that we should go to the mullah for a spell and this way we will get better. They do not allow us to go to male doctors because they are not our relatives. In our village women and girls are treated like animals—they are bought and sold at a fixed price. Is this democracy?
Housewife, rural Ghazni
Dear sister, when you talk about democracy you mean freedom—but what kind of freedom do we have? I will tell you a story. My sister studied until 12th grade but my father then engaged her to a person who was very poorly educated. My sister insisted that she did not want to marry this person and asked her father if she could continue studying. She was not allowed to do this however and she was married to this person in [an insecure] district. It is years since we have seen her—my father and brothers
Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan
Women vote in 2009’s presidential election (Photo: Independent Election Commission)
went to their house to ask permission to see her but they said “no, you sold your daughter to us for money, so why are you chasing us now?” My sister is very unhappy. If you take this example of an educated girl who has to live in this condition, how can you say we have freedom? As women, what should we do with the government’s democracy?
The woman speaking in the first quotation here implies that the lack of freedom she and other women in her village experience is in fact un-Islamic, and that by clarifying the requirements and limits of Islam she would in fact be entitled to more, and not less, freedom. In Kabul, there is a widespread opinion among government workers and members of the elite (of both genders) that the inhumane treatment of women is due to a misunderstanding of Islam and a merging of religious and cultural practices.59 However, this was not widely talked about by male respondents in rural areas—possibly as a result of the cultural stigma against men talking about women with unfamiliar men (the interview team). As such, it is not possible to determine these men’s perspective on the way Islamic and cultural values intertwine in practice.
The issue of women presents a key dilemma in terms of the progression of an Islamic democracy in Afghanistan. Current cultural practices and a widespread lack of education (neither of which are
59 Anna Larson, “A Mandate to Mainstream: Promoting Gender Equality in Afghanistan” (Kabul: AREU, 2008), 23.