On April 16, more than 300 Afghani women – many of them students – marched together in Kabul in protest of a new law passed by Parliament that would impose a series of Taliban-like restrictions on women. The law would permit marital rape, limit women’s movements – say, for work or study – without male permission, and even make it illegal for a woman to refuse to dress as her husband wishes.
The women, facing a crowd of furious men calling them “whores” and other epithets, marched two miles under a rain of abuse and delivered their petition against the law to legislators. Both houses of Parliament had approved the law, and President Hamid Karzai signed it. The law now affects only the Shia minority, but threatens to affect pending legislation that could restrict the rights of non-Shia women as well.
When Western media sought quotes from the women, they frequently heard a Western-style feminist refrain: “These laws would make women into a kind of property.” In the West, the counterpoint to the notion of woman as property has been a highly individualistic demand for personal autonomy – decision-making based primarily on a woman’s own wishes, rather than as wife, mother, community member, or worshipper.
But, while some Western feminist insights may be useful to Afghani women and other women in the developing world as they resist certain forms of male oppression, we should not assume – as Western feminists often have – that our job is to proselytize “our” feminism. On the contrary, the feminism expressed by women such as these Afghani heroines should educate us in the West about our own shortcomings.