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)

Women farmworkers haunt South Africa’s fruit and wine industries

Farm work is hard work, and farm workers around the world suffer abuse and exploitation that often seems to marry predation to sadism. A most recent, and vivid, picture of this emerges in this week’s Human Rights Watch report, Ripe with Abuse Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries. The report focuses on the fruit and wine industries of the “wealthy and fertile” Western Cape, where the greatest number of farmworkers, around 121,000, live. The report documents the active abuse, and worse, of farm owners and farm managers, and the often active failure of the State to live up to its Constitutional obligations to protect workers, families, citizens, people, women.

In South Africa, the report was picked up by the Mail & Guardian, the Sowetan, the City Press, The Times, The Cape Times, to name a few. Internationally, the BBC, the Guardian, and the Telegraph commented. In a number of reports, women farm workers or farm dwellers appeared.

For example, farmworker Sinah B struggled against forced eviction. Her employers cut off her electricity and running water, in the middle of winter, while farm security guards harassed and persecuted Sinah B and her two children morning, noon, and night.

Johanna Flippies and her family have been forcibly evicted from three farms in the last ten years, because her husband is a union shop steward. For Flippies, life on the farm is hell, life off the farm is … hell.

For workers on Western Cape farms, life is dismal, misery.

The news coverage of the Human Rights Watch report universally avoided the gender of misery. In the farmlands of the Western Cape, hell and misery have a face, and it is a woman’s face.

Farmworkers are divided into two large categories, permanent and casual or seasonal. Permanent farmworkers are in the main men. Women are seasonal. Even if they work year round. On the same farm. For the same employer. For years. Non-permanent farmworkers are the most abused, the most exploited, the most vulnerable, the most precarious, the under assault. They have fewer State-sponsored protections, for what they’re worth. Very few are organized in unions. As women, they’re paid less than men farmworkers, who are themselves paid, by law, less than domestic workers. Occupational health violations, such as lack of protection around pesticides, targets women. For women living on the farms, workplace sexual violence flows into domestic violence.

Human Rights Watch, in its report, explicated the gender dynamics of farmworker abuse and exploitation. Why have the news outlets avoided the women? Farmworkers around the world suffer abuse and exploitation. In the Western Cape of South Africa, farmworkers generally have it hard. But women farmworkers are the heart and soul, and target, of abuse and exploitation. Women farmworkers haunt South Africa’s wine and fruit industries … and silence about women farmworkers haunts the news.

 

(Photo Credit: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch)

The State expresses its grief, and Felani is dead

 

Children, girls and boys, are being killed by Indian soldiers on the India-Bangladeshi border. Each time it happens, the State claims grief and promises never again. The most recent girl to suffer this indignity, last week, was a fifteen-year-old girl named Felani:

“Indian border forces have handed over to Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) the body of ‘Felani’, 15, who was shot dead on Friday as she had gotten entangled in barbed-wire while crossing the border.… In the meeting, BDR condemned the brutal killing of the teenaged girl. BSF had expressed its grief over the incident and assured that such incident will not take place in future.”

What is to done with the grief of States expressed each time border troops kill or maim someone? What is the worth of their repeated assurances? Where is the future in which border guards will not shoot at children caught on barbed wire? And what is the name of the space that separates the dead body of 15 year old Felani, about whom the State is silent, and `the incident’ over which the State expresses its grief?

Apparently Felani and her father left their home in Bangladesh ten years ago and crossed into India. They were on their way home because a marriage to a local boy had been settled. Felani’s father successfully scaled the border fence. Felani got tangled up in the barbed wire and started to scream. The Indian Border Security Forces heard the screams, saw the girl, came, shot her and waited for her to die. Some say she bled and screamed for four hours, others say for less time. Whatever the duration, Felani, a fifteen- year-old girl, hanging upside down from the border fence, riddled with bullets, bleeding and screaming, died. The BSF then waited and finally cut her down and carried her away, hands and feet bound to a pole, like so much animal carcass. A day or so later, they arranged the meeting where they returned the body and expressed grief … over the incident.

Bangladeshis, and Indians, have expressed outrage at the incident and shock and disgust at the photographs. But who expresses grief at the border fence?

According to a Human Rights Watch report issued just last month, the Border Security Forces at that particular border are `trigger happy’. Children, such as 12-year-old Rumi Akhter Nipa, are routinely, randomly and indiscriminately shot. What do girls, like Rumi, want? According to Dr. Abdus Samad who treated her, she simply wants a daily life, to start school. What do children, like Rumi Akhter Nipa, get? “A pattern of grave abuses”. And, as Felani’s story suggests, they are to be considered the lucky ones.

The borderland is a graveyard. As long as the State, any State, is ruled by security first, as long as the borders are considered primary and the crossers, with or without documents, are secondary, the borderland will remain a graveyard. That is the reason that “despite numerous complaints no member of the BSF has been arrested, much less held to account in civilian courts.” Hundreds of Bangladeshis and of Indians have been killed and not a single member of the BSF has been arrested. Felani is not alone.

Grief emerges from graves, not from incidents. Apologies cover incidents, shrouds cover the bodies of the dead. The State of India expresses its grief? And Felani is dead.

 

(Photo Credit: BDNews24)