Wednesday, October 14, 2009 2:20 PM

What this woman wants

Gloria Galloway

A male colleague, who has spent far more time in Afghanistan than I have, told me that every female reporter who comes here decides she must write the definitive piece about the living conditions of the country's women.

This is Afghan culture, not ours, he wisely explained. And the poor dirt farmer who spends 13 years feeding and clothing a girl child must receive something in return. So, if women are sold by their fathers to their husbands to become virtual house servants who are confined to their compounds for the rest of their lives, that's life in Afghanistan.

There are far more pressing issues facing the Afghan population, he said, like staying alive in a war zone and feeding families in one of the poorest countries in the world.

And to a large extent, I agree.

Even so, I was very glad to see the wonderful series by my colleague Jessica Leeder last month. And, on my travels about the country (which are largely limited to cities because of safety considerations), I cannot help but be preoccupied by the lives of Afghanistan's women, if only because they are so different to my own.

So what follows is a collection of disjointed gender-related observations.

Picnic sausages

Afghan men love going on picnics it's how they often spend their Friday afternoons. But women are not invited. Wives make the meals and pack the baskets. But they do not get to travel to parks or recreation spots, pull out a blanket, and feel sun on their faces in natural surrounding. Picnics are a men-only affair.

House-bound and shrouded

Some women literally never leave the confines of their homes. But most do get a chance to do some shopping. Kandahar City has a market that caters only to women. I am told that the Taliban don't like it. They would prefer that all outside activities are performed by men. But, so far, they have not targeted it for attacks.

The first time I drove through the city in a military convoy after arriving here in September, there were no women in the streets. A year ago, there were many burka-shrouded figures buying food at the stalls and quickly going about their daily business.

I wrongly concluded from my perch in the light armoured vehicle that the city had become so dangerous they were not leaving their homes any more.

When I travelled through the city this week in the back of a cab (in my own burka) there were lots of women out and about. It became clear that, on my previous trip, they had ducked into homes and shops when they saw the military convoy coming.

Last year, however, I estimated that about 10 per cent had their faces uncovered. This year, almost all are veiled another sign of the increasing Taliban influence in the city.

A woman's way

One of the Afghan men I met this week, a man from a farming region, was quite amused by me. He walked into the room as I was working on my laptop.

The women of his village cannot read and they certainly do not know how to work computers, he explained, grinning. He seemed impressed by my skills, but it was clear that he did not believe his own women could be capable of learning such things.

The dating game

Another man asked The Globe's excellent Afghan fixer to explain the meaning of the word girlfriend. The fixer knew the answer because he had asked me, just last week, to explain the difference between girlfriends and wives.

I had replied that a girlfriend is someone very special but there is no agreement between her and her boyfriend that they would stay together forever. A wife, on the other hand, is forever. It seemed kind of simplistic. But the concept of dating is just so foreign to an Afghan man.

The men here must save thousands of dollars to give to the father of the girl that they marry. It's not unusual for this to take them into their 30s. Their brides are often half their age and, in Kandahar at least, someone they have never actually met.

But things are changing ever so slightly.

Mike Capstick, who is now country leader for Peace Dividend Trust, a group that helps Afghan companies get foreign contracts, pointed out a couple of weeks ago that almost all of the young men on the streets of Kabul have cell phones. You see them standing on the corners texting like crazy. Who are they texting? Girls, said Mr. Capstick.

It will be a long time before you see similar sights in Kandahar. And it would be wrong for me to argue that dating is better to arranged marriages. It's a cultural thing and both have their pitfalls.

The global sisterhood

But I can't help wishing some things for my Afghan sisters. I wish more of them could be educated. I wish more could leave husbands that are abusive. I wish more had the ability to earn their own living.

And I wish they had more freedom of movement. It sounds silly, especially given the famine and the fighting, but I wish they could go on picnics.




commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre



Afghan women and men would be in for quite a shock if they visited Canada with it's Male Sharia Law where men have no legal rights, where judges like the "worst of the worst" Allan Sheffield" "strike pleadings", issue "vexatious litigant orders" that permanently deprive a male of ANY legal rights.

These orders, like the "Power Orders" of the corrupt Denis Power remove legal rights, its now common practice in Ontario and the judges who make them are called the "underbelly" of the judiciary.

Not that our lawyer premier gives a dam nor our lawyer Attorney General because they are part of the problem, the corruption of the justice system in Ontario.

Its something that would make the eyes pop of every Afghan.