By Corinna Barnard
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Bin Laden's death changed little for girls and women in Afghanistan, a rights worker wrote from Kabul this week. Her words echoed the country's last-place motherhood ranking this week, which also brought sobering U.S. news.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--After the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden this week, the organization Women for Afghan Women reported an eerie quiet in Kabul.
"Police are patrolling the streets," Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women (WAW), wrote to her supporters on May 2. "But very few people are walking around, and even at the office, people aren't talking about the news that is ricocheting across the world--Osama bin Laden has been killed."
Naderi instructed all staff members "to lie low for the next few days." Offices would remain open, but travel would be avoided.
"We simply cannot know whether the death of bin Laden is or is not good for the Afghan people, but we are worried about what will happen next," she wrote. "Will al-Qaida and the Taliban be weakened? Will negotiations with the Taliban be stepped up? Will this decade-long chapter in Afghanistan's history end with the foreign troops hastening away?"
Naderi advocates for women in a country that--in the week ahead of Mother's Day--took the limelight for a reason other than its Taliban sphere of influence.
Afghanistan came in last on Save the Children's latest annual global rankings of countries on the basis of maternal health. The U.S., in 31st place, had its own black eye for having one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the industrialized world. The best place in the world to be a mom is Norway, where the average maternity leave is about one year.
The reasons for Afghanistan's last place--164 out of 164--are no doubt numerous, but a note in Naderi's e-mail about the group's difficulty setting up shelters for battered women highlights women's lack of autonomy there.
"The government still wants shelter clients to be handed over to any family member who comes to claim them," Naderi wrote in her e-mail. "WAW will never agree to such a clause because it negates the whole purpose of a safe house. With the continued support of all our allies and supporters, we will prevail in this case as well."
In closing, Naderi said that bin Laden's death has done little for the girls and women in this country. "They still live in a country that is ravaged by poverty, corruption, violence and terror. They still must cope with a conservative culture that does not uphold their human rights."
President Barack Obama's hero-style appearance here in New York on Thursday--just a few blocks from the Women's eNews office--seemed somewhat surreal. A couple of staffers ventured into familiar streets transformed by security barricades, crowds and rows of news trucks carrying huge white satellite discs. But they quickly scurried back.