In southern Afghanistan ,it's becoming increasingly dangerous to be a working woman.Writing in Canada's Globe and Mail, Jane Armstrong reports on how these women are coping.
Last month's assassination of activist Safia Ama Jan, the director of women's affairs for the province of Kandahar, who was gunned down outside her house as she left for work, put a chill in the hearts of female professionals. It harkened back to the time when the Taliban were in power and women were routinely beaten, mutilated and killed for disobeying their restrictive edicts. The women now say the death threats are on the rise, but local police can do nothing to protect them.
At Monday's gathering, eight women sat around a table in a shabby board room, lamenting the rise in violence. They are educated, married women with families. Like nearly all Kandahar women, they wear burkas in public — and remove the head-to-toe covering once inside their offices.
“When I leave for work in the morning, I don't know if I will be coming home,” one working woman lamented during a Monday-morning meeting at a women's resource centre in downtown Kandahar.
I change my route every day,” she continued. “I wear a different coloured burka. Everyone has fear.”
The weekly meetings are a chance for female professionals to gather and vent about the current spate of violence against women in this troubled city.
In Afghanistan it seems the only way a woman can work is by wearing a burka out in public. And yet, in Europe several countries ban women from not only wearing burkas but the hijab- the most common form of headcovering for Muslim women.
The issue of banning burkas is now being discussed in the UK after politican Jack Straw said he would like to ban burkas.
The veil question has exposed a staggering level of thoughtless illiberalism, and not just where you'd expect to find it. Hot off the mark, the Express consults its readers about a ban on the veil:
"An astounding 97% of Daily Express readers agreed a ban would help to safeguard racial harmony." It's not quite clear how this ban would be implemented. (Policemen ripping veils from women's faces? Asbos? Flinging wearers in jail?)
In response to the debate in England, Bill Maher brought up the issue of banning Burkas on his weekly HBO program. Maher asked the guests -- CNN host Lou Dobbs, Ben Affleck and terrorism expert Danielle Pletka, what they thought of the idea of forbidding women in the United States from wearing burkas. Maher is in favor of the ban --saying the burkas are a sign of oppression.
Dobbs agreed. Affleck warned that a ban would be a violation of religious freedom and the terrorism expert said despite her reservations of infringing on religious freedom, she too is in favor of the ban.
While burkas make me uncomfortable for a myriad of reasons, I agree with Affleck. So does David Edgar, a playwright who wrote an opinion piece about the Burka controversy in The Guardian.
And yes, the veil can be alienating to people trying to communicate with the person wearing it; it is sometimes (but not always) worn involuntarily, and (for me) is an expression of devotion to a non-existent supernatural being whose worship excuses all kinds of barbarism. But if we want to have a leg to stand on when we stand up for The Satanic Verses or Behzti or Jerry Springer, we must defend to the death the right to wear it.
Image Credit: Flickr member Netjeret men Nefer