One of the few positive outcomes of the war on terror that most everyone can agree on -- blue state or red state, Bush love or Bush hate -- is the emergence of Afghan women from a veil of silence, repression and invisibility.
When all else failed on the Guantánamo/Abu Ghraib/killing of innocent children front, President Bush could always return to the new status of women in Afghanistan and score a couple of public relations points. Not only did the new government allow women to discard the burqa (if they so wished), get a job and go to school, but the Constitution, rewritten with their human rights in mind, guaranteed equality for women. In the years following the 2001 establishment of the country's new government, an estimated 2 million girls returned to school. The new Parliament (characterized by the Pak Tribune as "a mix of ex-warlords and women") would bring 68 female representatives to the lower house in 2005, a higher percentage than three-quarters of the rest of the nations in the world. Some academics speculated that the presence of mujahedin and former Taliban working next to female politicians might prove difficult, but it was easy to preserve hope that this experiment in state formation could succeed despite such bizarre political bedfellows.
But in the wake of the killing of Safia Ama Jan, who was head of the country's Women's Affairs Ministry in the southern province of Kandahar, the bad news keeps coming. Now, as the Pak Tribune reported Wednesday, female officials in the southern and western provinces have been receiving death threats, suggesting that Ama Jan's death was not simply a single assassination but part of a concerted effort to terrorize a new generation of Afghan feminists.
Sadly, it's not enough simply to give women legal and political power. Culture is what really counts, and it moves more slowly. Far more slowly than the spinmeisters in the White House would have us think. According to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, via Pop Wire, a majority of Afghan women still feel compelled to wear the burqa to avoid the stares and hisses of men. "It will take at least 20 years to change," Shukria Barakzai, the editor of a women's newspaper and member of Parliament, told the Inquirer from her home in Kabul. "We'll need a new generation, the ones who are now teenagers, when they become decision-makers."