Justifying marital rape. Forcing wives’ to have sexual intercourse at least every fourth night and allowing them to leave the house only with their husbands’ permission. This new law just signed by president Hamid Karzaj in Afghanistan has caused a storm of international protest and utter disbelief. Due to acute international pressure supported by chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy the law- even though not completely revoked- was withdrawn this weekend for further legal review.
Following abstract news stories in the media on the new law I am shocked as a woman. Then I try to translate what I read on pieces of paper and the feelings this evokes into the very tangible meaning for and harsh reality of the Afghan women concerned in the news stories.
I start to see people in front of my eyes. Women whose realities I got a glimpse into for some hours or even weeks while staying at their homes with families in Central Asia.
I remember the abused Tajik woman during a visit to a traditional healer in Samarkand, Uzbekistan at six in the morning. Trying to get divorced from her alcoholic husband she was declared insane by him and her own family. Thus making it even more impossible for her to escape her situation. No money, the only possession being her wedding ring and clothes and nowhere to go. The only job to find in a country where there is almost no infrastructure for women’s paid labor is work as a prostitute in Tashkent hoping that a Russian would actually pay for her services- most likely unprotected.
I then remember the nervous cough I first could not understand and fearful but brave eyes of my host’s sixteen year old daughter Aziza when I asked her about the color of her future husband’s eyes. Before it dawned on my western trained mind she simply did not know. She had only seen him once from a distance. Her engagement party was a huge feast with songs, dance, a lot of food, a filming team and more than 200 people attending only Aziza and her fiancée were not allowed to show up.
After the party was over I helped to clean the tables. There were only five men who remained seated at one table. In order to clean the adjacent tables I moved one food plate onto the men’s table. How could I not have known that I might not dare to disturb these men by moving that plate. Wearing the traditional silk dress Aziza’s cousin had sown for me I quickly moved around and looked at the man who got up. How can a quick stare with hateful eyes feel so like rape? A breathless silence. Then feeling the protective presence of the remaining guests I defended myself in my own language as I had never before or ever after.
Travelling in my minds eye I then see Jacqueline who I stayed with for a month in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Proud and strong young Afghan woman. Disgraced through her divorce from an Afghan man she found personally repulsive and who it turned out later was the one who could not get children, blaming it on her and divorcing her after months of abuse. Living back with her mother and Russian step father who it turned out later was into smuggling drugs from Afghanistan to Russia and had severe alcohol problems, taking advantage of her, she was the lowest in the family hierarchy. Even her 10 years younger half-brothers and sisters she had to obey.
The latest I heard from Jacqueline months after my return was she reported her stepfather to the police and the embassy protected her sending her to Russia. And then she had to go back.
Now I have not heard from her for a long long time and I wonder….