Is misogyny an inherent part of Afghan culture? No, it's not. As far back as the 1920s, the Afghan government showed support for women. Mahmud Tarzi, Afghanistan's Foreign Minister and the King's father-in-law, was an "ardent supporter" of women’s education. In the late 1970s the Soviet-backed People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan gained power and expanded women’s rights substantially.
After the Soviet war, fundamentalist "Mujahideen" warlords gained power. "Serious wide-spread violations of 'women's rights' by Mujahideen soldiers included rape and torture," writes Sonali Kolhatkar in Change Links. Eventually, the Taliban seized power, further eroding human rights and basic freedoms, especially for women.
The situation of women in Afghanistan has improved since the Taliban rule, but even now remains desperate. Many are still routinely raped, abused and treated like second-class citizens. Then it was the Taliban, now President Karzai has passed a law backed by fundamentalist parliamentarians and clerics that legalizes abuse towards Shiite women.
When boys grows up seeing how their fathers, uncles or brothers mistreat women in the family, they cannot be expected to see that a women has rights or opinions. By passing laws that further instill abusive treatment of women, Afghan men find justification to continue mistreating them. Karzai himself is part of this mindset, as is indicated in this Times of London editorial: "[Karzai's] wife, Zinat Karzai, a medical doctor...has no voice, is rarely seen in public and is reported to have told an activist that she did not leave the house because her husband did not like it and did not give his permission."
Malalai Joya, an Afghan ex-MP and champion for justice and women’s rights who is featured in this week's Global Pulse episode, said in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, "Karzai rules only with the permission of the warlords. He is 'a shameless puppet'...the only people who get to serve as president are those selected by the US government and the mafia that holds power in our country." She goes on to say that there is no difference between the Taliban and the warlords that are in power now, and that they were the ones that introduced the "laws oppressing women followed by the Taliban."
In a country where 85% of women have no formal education, where women are so desperate for justice that they set themselves ablaze and where women cannot even step outside of their house without their husband's permission, how can we in the West really believe that Afghanistan is really a democracy and that things are getting better for Afghan women?