Kabul is a cosmopolitan center and demonstrates a willingness to modernize but outside Kabul old traditions remain strong and there is little interest in these rural areas for any change.
III. Social Factors
The rural nature of Afghan society cannot be over-emphasized. The population of the country is estimated at 24 million but it is highly fragmented into a variety of ethnic groups that are further broken down into tribal groups. This tribal fragmentation has been encouraged by the countries bordering Afghanistan that have, in order to promote their own political agendas, disturbed any efforts by the Afghan central government from uniting these tribes. What has developed is a system of ethnically-based rivalries supported by localized Islamic religious sects.
Tribal traditions inside Afghanistan tend to be more powerful than either Islamic theology or political philosophy and these traditions can be harsh toward women (Rohde). Gender roles under tribal traditions are based upon patriarchal control and women are placed in subordinate positions. Under the terms of most ancient tribal laws marriage is considered as a method of building alliances between groups within tribes and, on occasion, larger alliances between tribes. As a result, women are forced into roles where they are used as pawns in the forming of these alliances, never allowed to divorce, and destined to live in total obedience first to their fathers and, then, to their husband. Under this system there is no perceived reason for women to seek education. They are expected to administer to everyday domestic affairs, remain obedient, and quiet. The feminist scholar, Valentine Moghadam, argues that the women's rights in Afghanistan have been typified by: 1) the patriarchal nature of gender and social relations deeply embedded in traditional communities and 2) the existence of a weak central state that has been unable to implement modernizing programs and goals in the fact of "tribal feudalism (Moghadam)."
As earlier indicated, there have been numerous attempts throughout Afghan history toward instituting social reforms involving the rights of women but such changes have been short-lived. These changes have failed largely due to the influence of tribal leaders from the rural areas of the country. These leaders have seen social reforms as being too western and in violation of the doctrines of Islam, meanwhile, the regular members of the tribes viewed the proposed reforms as a challenge to their familial and tribal authority and the loss of financial security gained by strategically arranged marriages. Particularly bothersome for these individuals were the abolition of bride selling, polygamy, and the introduction of education for women. It should be pointed out that the changes that were made occurred primarily within close proximity to Kabul and that the changes never really occurred in the towns and villages where most Afghans lived. The tribes were fearful that such changes might expand beyond the borders of Kabul and, therefore, they fought hard to prevent this from occurring.
Interestingly, the present diminished position of women in Afghan society owes its origin to events surrounding the Soviet's occupation of Afghanistan (Mendelson). During the Soviet occupation women had begun to enjoy improving status. They began to emerge as teachers, doctors, and lawyers but the ensuing battle between the Afghans and Soviets echoed in an era of anarchy and destruction. The Mujahideen forces, loosely organized guerillas, funded partially by the United States, worked to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan (Grau). These Mujahideen were largely radical followers of Islam and they pronounced a reversal of the policies initiated by the Soviets including any and all reforms guaranteeing women liberties. The Mujahideen were eventually successful in driving the Soviets from the country and as they assumed power they declared Afghanistan as an Islam state. As they did so, the Mujahideen began a period of turning back the clock on women's rights in Afghanistan and a period of oppression characterized by killings, rapes, amputations and other forms of violence.
Once United States authorities who had previously supported the Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation realized that such support had been imprudently placed they turned their loyalties toward the Taliban (U.S. State Department). The Taliban replaced the Mujahideen briefly as the ruling authority in Afghanistan but it did not result in any significant change. The status of women under both groups closely resembled the situation that had existed in Afghanistan for most of its history but this time such treatment was partially ratified by the United States in its role as a financial benefactor of both groups.
IV. Rise of Islam Fundamentalism
Beginning in the early 1980's the world began to witness the spread of Islamic fundamentalism (Hiro). It was Islamic fundamentalists that overthrew the pro-Western regime of the Shah of Iran, attacked the Mosque in Mecca, assassinated Sadat in Egypt, and blew up the U.S. Marine base barracks in Beirut. The Taliban in Afghanistan are followers of Islam fundamentalism.
Fundamental Islam takes a different approach from that of Traditional Islam. Followers of Traditional Islam believe that it is their duty to convert the rest of humanity to their religion but they have taken the approach that such events will occur at some point in the future and without the need for aggressive, violent intervention. Fundamental Islam, meanwhile, advocates the concept of jihad and views it their responsibility to defeat the infidels by whatever means possible. In doing so, the Fundamentalist argue that the law of Islam, including those leading to the oppression of women in the modern view, must be implemented in every detail.
The rise of Islam fundamentalism has opened the century old debate regarding Western and Middle Eastern views on a variety of matters not the least of which is the role of women in society. (Care should be taken here as fundamentalists in all religions tend to take a similar view in their attitudes toward the role of women in society.) What has transpired in Afghanistan is a return to the view that the family lies at the heart of the family and that religion is the ultimate protector of the family unit. In that setting women are seen as subordinate to men and maintaining them in that position ensures that the family unit will be maintained. Allowing women to become educated, employed or allowed to own property and they are no longer subordinate and ultimately the family is destroyed and, eventually, so is the community.
The rise of Fundamental Islam has ensured that the society that has existed in Afghanistan and elsewhere for centuries will continue. For the Fundamentalists avoiding any tinge of Western society is the only way for Islam to prosper. Thus, strict adherence to Islamic principles is a necessity. In the process the oppression of women continues.
V. History of Chinese Women
Like their sisters in Afghanistan any current oppression of women inside China is not a new development. Such practices were part of the Chinese culture long before the days of the Communist regime in China. Based on the teachings of Confucius, the primary religious figure in China, women are not equal to men and, therefore, not worthy of any literary training or in the need of any education (Cleary). For thousands of years, Chinese women lived a nearly unbearable existence. They were required to follow the dictates of their father, brothers, and other male members of their family. They lacked a say in nearly every phase of their lives. There lack of status in Chinese culture was so severe they were often not even named at the time of their birth. Instead, daughters would be referred to as "daughter number one" and "daughter number two (Hinsch)."
This situation did not change as women became married. Her husband replaced her father and she was expected to follow his directions the same as she had her father. Divorce was strictly prohibited and if her husband should become deceased she was not allowed to remarry under the penalty of death if she should. Under ancient Chinese doctrine a women's responsibility was to bear and raise sons.
Under Confucianism a strict patriarchal culture developed and women became to be viewed as objects for man's pleasure, and they could be taken or disposed of in any manner. Women had little to say as to what happened to them and this right extended to their daughters as well. This inability to protect themselves included the right to protect themselves from the wanton desires of men and women became nothing more than sexual commodities for the men in society.
The need for women to obtain an education in Chinese culture was non-existence. The typical Chinese women spent the majority of her life in seclusion tending to domestic duties and these were the fortunate ones who were able to avoid infanticide. For much of Chinese history, girls were viewed as financial burdens to the family and, as a result, infanticide was practiced as a means of ensuring that a family would not be overwhelmed by the costs of raising a female child.