Presidents pander, women suffer

Pakistan and Afghanistan: How can we help?


Lynn Harris
April 15, 2009 8:40PM (UTC)

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, heretofore distinguished by this awkward handshake, has cozied up much more disastrously to Taliban insurgents, formally imposing Shariah law on the Swat Valley region -- home to the young woman publicly flogged for (according to some reports) being seen in public with a man who was not her husband. Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzi has, after some desultory hemming and hawing, signed a law that, for the Shia population, effectively legalizes marital rape. 

Pandering and capitulating, says an editorial in today's New York Times. Karzai's move is a "bald and creepy" play for Shiite minority support come election time in August. As for Pakistan: "We seriously doubt this will bring peace [though some on the ground, depressingly, say it couldn't hurt], and it will certainly not make life better for Pakistani women," the Times opines. "It is unlikely that Mr. Zardari's wife -- the slain former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto -- would have ever consented to such a craven sellout."

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Bottom line: Both moves "sabotage chances of building stable healthy societies in Pakistan and Afghanistan," says the Times. And: they "represent an officially sanctioned brutality that violates American values and international human rights norms." (Yes, but in practice, that's nothing new, writes Anand Gopal at the HuffPo, noting that most Afghan women have never heard of this law in the first place. "This is because the majority of Afghans are rural, living without electricity or a connection to the happenings in Kabul," he writes. "Afghan women suffer from the lowest literacy rate in the world, at 13 percent. And the ones that are familiar with it mostly shrug their shoulders, because the conditions that the law imposes are no different than those that already exist in their everyday lives.")

What can be done? Well, if you're a woman in Kabul, protesting may get you pelted with rocks, as the L.A. Times reports today. 

But from the relative safety of your laptop, you might also (list offered in response to restive reader request):

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-- Write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticizing U.S. support for mujahedin

-- Sponsor a woman in Afghanistan through Women For Women International 

-- Support groups such as Human Rights Watch and UNIFEM (If you can't afford to donate, you can at least stay up-to-date.)

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Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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