What are “moral crimes”? For Afghan women …

According to Human Rights Watch, for incarcerated Afghan “immoral criminal” women, moral crimes can take many shapes, including “falling in love and eloping with the lover”, “running away from an abusing husband”, “being kidnapped”, “getting lost”, “being raped”. What do all these variations share? You might think it’s the woman “victim”. You’d be wrong. For Afghans, the real victim is the woman’s family, and family means “the men of the family”.

Who then is the “typical” Afghan woman? She is the namoos, the honor and dignity of a man.  This is her identity: the woman is the “other” to the man’s “self”. This dependence and otherness makes the Afghan woman oppressed and the object of man’s control over her body – her behavior, the way she walks, talks, what she wears, where she goes – because she must protect the man’s dignity and honor. His dignity and honor are embodied in her vulnerable body. A woman’s body is entrusted with the “dignity and honor” of a man. That is all there is to her being.

If the “dignity” is comprised, the woman’s body can be summarily disposed of. The woman does not even have to be at fault for this to happen. Any violations of dignity can make a woman’s body disposable. There are numerous routes to honor killing.  An Afghan woman is likely to be killed by her male family members after she is thought to have compromise the “dignity and honor” of the male family members by any misconduct. Misconduct includes having been raped.

Through socialization processes at the family and community level, women internalize their “other” identity. The family produces children or youth as disciplinary subjects: “Not only the parental gaze and it’s internalization by children within the family, but also the effects of the multiple gazes originating outside the “parent-child cell” help in producing women as disciplinary subjects. Family members constantly monitor each other. For instance, like the prisoner who takes on the roles of both watcher and watched, a daughter must assume parental scrutiny even in her unobserved or private actions. Women are actively involved in the process. Their identity is tied up in observing the rules and regulations imposed on them, rules and regulations they have internalized as their own.

An Afghan woman will act upon these internalized norms and values.  She will watch her body and her acts.  If any rule is violated, she might punish herself.  There are many instances of Afghan women who committed suicide, which can accurately be termed “honor suicide”, after being raped, to restore the honor and dignity of the family.

But what happens in those rare cases where a woman runs away rather than commit suicide? What happens when a woman who has been raped chooses to live and tell the police? The police put her in jail. If the case makes it to court, the judge sentences her to years in prison for adultery and running away. Finally, President Karzai, under pressure, might “pardon the immoral criminal so that she can marry her rapist. She will not be welcomed at her “father’s” home and she will have nowhere else to go. Either she restores the honor of the family and marries the rapist, or just she kills herself … if she hasn’t already been killed.

“Running away” is mostly associated with love, and “love” in Afghan culture is mostly an immoral word, for boy and girls. In many cases, when families have found out about a relationship, they marry their son or daughter to someone else as soon as they can, to end it.

Girls grow up being taught that men can not be trusted. Therefore, it is expected for a girl to keep herself hidden and safe until marriage. If a girl or young woman decides to run away, she knows that something is going to happen to her. If she is already on the run, she has accepted the consequences. The woman is blamed for whatever happens to her. This belief is widely shared, even among academics and students of the law. Once, in the midst of a hot debate on women’s rights, a classmate stood up and said, “I can do anything to a girl who `breaks the chains’ and steps over the line.” Many in the class, including the professor, seemed to agree, including most of the girls.

This mentality is everywhere, among ordinary people, and among academics, law students, lawyers and judges. What is taught in law school? One professor would teach us, “What goes on in a household is none of anyone else’s business. If a woman is battered or violated, nothing can be done until she goes to the police herself. If she doesn’t have any problem with it, no one can do anything”. Another would teach, “When you bring a woman to your house to `get married’, you are not just going to put her in a glass box and sit and watch.” Then he would laugh, and the class would join in. Another lecturer would teach: “ An adultery case is impossible to prove, unless four male witnesses, who were present at the scene, testify to it’s having occurred.” In other words, the women, who is the “immoral raped criminal,” has to ask the rapists and their witness accomplices to testify to having raped her.

There is no “moral crime”. “Moral crime” is the culture. For Afghan women “moral crime” is another red line drawn around them, a line that makes sure that no woman ever steps out of bounds.

 

(Photo Credit: Farzana Wahidy / Human Rights Watch)

The State `honors’ mothers while abusing their children

Yesterday, Sunday, May 8, 2011, was Mother’s Day in many parts of the world. Mothers were celebrated and honored. How does the State `honor’ mothers?

According to a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, inequality among OECD countries is rapidly growing. Starting in the 1980s, the United States and the United Kingdom led the way in growth-through-inequality. Then the movement spread. Today, it rules the vast majority of OECD countries. Those are countries identified as wealthy and developed. Growing structural inequality has come to mean developed.

How are women honored in this development model? “Since the mid-1980s, women’s employment has grown much more rapidly than that of men. But many women work part-time and earn less which explains part of widening earnings gaps among the workforce. On average across the OECD, the share of part-time employment in total employment increased from 11% in the mid-1990s to about 16% by the late 2000s”.

Women have entered or been forced, or some combination thereof, into the jobs market. Many countries have followed the United States model in which public assistance, or welfare, has been cut and limited. There’s less money and the restrictions, especially the time restrictions, are severe. This toxic storm strikes single mothers particularly hard. Remove all supports and then create a labor market in which those with low or limited educational qualifications must work part-time for practically nothing. Eliminate public services, such as childcare and extended school programs. Even out-of-school suspension policies assault all working mothers, and particularly low- and no-wage mothers, and particularly single mothers.

If the women complain or try to unionize, they are reminded that there’s no assistance out there, that all the jobs available for `people like them’ are pretty much the same, and that they are women, mothers especially, who have near catastrophic household, and community, responsibilities. They are not reminded that, in the United States, union women earn 34% more than nonunion women.  That information wouldn’t be prudent.

The same period, early 1980s to the present, has witnessed increased incarceration of children. In Australia, the immigrant and asylum detention centers have been  “factories for producing mental illness”, and have been broadly criticized for caging children of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, sometimes for long periods. What is the State response? Cover-up. Privatize. Outsource.

In the United Kingdom, children in custody die as a result of constraint methods.  One popular method is the tantrum hold, sure to result in injury 9 out of 10 times. In 2004, fifteen-year-old Gareth Myatt died of asphyxiation after being `tantrum held.’ Finally, an investigation into the constraint methods was conducted. That report was completed in May 2008 and presented to the government. What was the State response? Silence? Actually, it was worse in that it was more active. The State suppressed and hid the report. This Wednesday, three years later, the report will be made public.

In the United States, eleven states treat 17-year-olds charged with felonies as adults.  Illinois is one of the eleven states. A recent study of convictions in Illinois suggests that only 25% of the youths convicted with gun charges were ever actually identified as having the gun in question. In fact, of the cases studied, only 46% of them had any gun recovered.  Children were sent to adult prisons for gun possession in cases in which no gun was ever found, in cases in which the children in question were never identified as holding the gun in question. How does the State respond? The State legislature is debating a bill, right now, to reduce the age limit from 17 to 15 and 16, if convicted for gun possession. In Illinois, this is considered inclusion.

From Australia to the United Kingdom to the United States and beyond, the State incarceration of children and the State abuse of child prisoners is a direct assault on their adult guardians. Overwhelmingly, that assault targets women. Mothers. Grandmothers. Aunts. All of these women are mothers,  `a woman who undertakes the responsibility of a parent towards a child.”

Nation-States designed, or bought, economic development models that targeted vast numbers of women and children. The same States designed, or bought, justice programs that targeted vast numbers of women and children. Those State economic and justice models have devastated communities of color and low-income communities generally.

And yesterday those States honored women and celebrated mothers and motherhood? Rather call those State festivities `honor celebrations’, and invite them to sit at the same family table as honor killings. Mothers, and their children, can sit at other, better tables.

 

(Photo Credit: mylondondiary.co.uk)