Women, Weddings, War & Me- TV Program Review (Role Reversal)

The following article is a role reversal of the documentary screened on BBC television this week “Women, Weddings, War & Me”, which follows a Afghani Born British Girl visiting her country of birth to find out why her family fled the country. The article reverses the roles shown in the Program and provides the perspective of the cousin of the visiting Girl on how she views the many issues which are normally only shown and discussed  through Western Spectacles.

By Hamid Chaudry- My cousin Nel recently visited me in Afghanistan to see what life was like for women in post-Taliban era. I feel she was shocked at some of the things she encountered here in Afghanistan. She felt strongly that men control this country and women are treated as personal possessions, lacking any rights. She also felt that her life in Britain is much better, because the law is not imposed on her in any way; she is free to pray, or fast, or eat halaal food, without this having to be enforced by a government or other individuals.

I decided to travel from my native Afghanistan to see what life was like in Britain where Nel grew up. Many of my fellow countrymen have moved to London, and we are always wondering about this country which we all hear about but have never visited.

We are always told about the freedoms in the country, especially for women, and I was intrigued to sample this ‘freedom’ for myself…given our life her in Afghanistan is very different.

The first thing that struck me was the access to education for all, which is something lacking my own country. It is my desire to be educated, to gain knowledge, so that I can better myself as a person, and also contribute to the betterment of my country. Here in Afghanistan, I am one of the fortunate few, in that I live in an area where we can go to school. Most of my class friends hope to become doctors or teachers, because we feel that is a good way in which we can help our country. The one thing I did find however, speaking to my cousins in the Britain, is many had no clear idea of what profession they wanted to pursue. Those who did spoke about becoming solicitors, or accountants, because they were well paid professions which would give them comfortable lives. I did not find many who wished to become teachers, whose status in society, unlike in my country, was very low, or even scientists or doctors. This was all the more surprising given the shortage of such skills in the UK, where many doctors are work migrants.

Another thing that I noticed is the large number of women visibly participating in public life. This is very different from my country, where women, even if participating in public life, are segregated. This is a cultural norm based on our religion, though I feel sometimes women are denied the right to pursue education and work, due to a number of reasons – the lack of work opportunities, the lack of segregated public spaces, or sometimes the stereotypical views of men which deny women valid opportunities. I guess each culture is inevitably different in these terms. However I did begin to wonder whether the society in Britain makes a distinction between the role of the man and woman.

My cousins talked about how the country viewed both sexes as equal in status and roles in society. But when I pushed them to think further, they sometimes fell quiet as if they weren’t really sure about what equality meant. The culture in my country recognises that men and women are different in nature, and assigns them different roles in society – so the man is the natural ‘bread winner’ and the woman may be described as the ‘home-maker’. If all women are out working, who is looking after the young children I found I was asking myself? Who is there when the children come home from school to look after them?

My conversations with various women unearthed a general dis-satisfaction that not only were women expected to work, but were still mainly responsible for being the ‘home-makers’ as well! So they actually had two jobs and not just one. Such demands were often the cause for depression, marital problems, and other illnesses, as women found it difficult to cope with this ‘supermum’ expectation.

I actually came to the conclusion that the society did not really consider being a home maker or housewife a role in life or society.  A woman was valued if she had an education and a job, and was contributing to the society ‘economically’. As a housewife is not revenue earning, the role is diminished in the view of society – women are encouraged to work and earn money, even if this means having to pay for child-care which can be more costly. So she is worse off financially, and has her child looked after by someone else.

Because the society is based upon financial independence, this can make life difficult for women in the UK. Here many women live alone. They leave their parents house and live with a boyfriend, who may then leave her, even if she has children. So who looks after her? There are some state benefits, which is good, but many are forced into work rather than being able to look after their children. This does not happen in Afghanistan. Women are always looked after, either by their father, or brother or husband. There is someone to look after her always.

On a similar note, I find most women are very conscious about the way they look in public. Of course, we women like to look beautiful too, both to feel better for ourselves, but we like to look pretty for our husbands, and even when we women are together we will have fun dressing up and experimenting with make-up (the little that is available in Kabul: it is often too expensive for us to buy regularly). So for us it is like a past-time and enjoyment.

But I felt that women in Britain feel almost pressurised into looking or dressing in a certain way. I heard many times women say they cannot go out without make-up; they have to wear different clothes most days, and they have many clothes in their wardrobe which they wear only once, but still buy more. Even they feel the need for cosmetic surgery to change their appearance. So I have to ask myself why? Why is there this pressure on women in society to look pretty or dress in a certain way? Who creates this pressure? Is it women themselves? If so, then why do they not feel good about themselves without having to use much make-up and always wear new clothes? Or is it the companies that need to continue making money, so they have trends for new fashions so women always feel the need to keep buying new clothes? So it is to make money for big companies. Or is it men maybe? Men like to see beautiful women, and women ‘conform’ to this. I am not sure, but I think my country is better in this way, because woman is not pressurised to look ‘million dollars’ all the time. Even the burka is good for this (though I wear hijaab only), because it a shield between the man and woman in society, and protects her from men’s eyes.

And the next thing…men in UK often looking at woman. They call her names as she is passing. Or whistle. Why she has to listen to this? Do they not think, this woman is someone’s sister? Or someone’s mother, or daughter? They themselves have mothers, and sisters and daughters. Would they like if their own mother is treated in this way? I find this very sad. In this free country, where a woman is given education and a chance to work, she is still considered to be an object of desire. So this is freedom? If this is freedom, we don’t want this for Afghanistan. Our men at least treat us with honour and respect. I know there are some cases were women are not treated well in the home, perhaps by in-laws, or even by her husband, but this is not common and needs to change.

And then I see that women here are also involved in selling themselves. Women from Britain, women from Russia or Europe. They are controlled by men, who force lie to them and bring them to UK with promises, but they only want to abuse them and use them to make money. Why is this happening in Britain? This country, which has money and gives education, and housing and free healthcare, but this is common. So this tells me that there is oppression for women. And they are controlled by men. People say men in Afghanistan control women and do not allow them education or rights. But in Britain it is no different, they control women and dishonour them. This is a modern country. And the government they do not stop it. I think Taleban did not give women all rights, but they stopped these things in Afghanistan, even if it is very little.

I hear that women are also abused in this country. When husbands or in-laws they sometimes ill-treat the women, this was made big news around the world, that how women’s rights are abused. But here there is abuse also, I was very surprised. There is violence against women in the home here also, and abused by strangers. It is a common thing here. It is not common in my Afghanistan. How can a woman be safe in this country? I do not know.

We have a new thing in Afghanistan. It is programmes like Afghan Idol or Afghan Model. Though these are popular with some youngsters, they encourage people to think that if you have good looks, that you can be successful. Our country does not need this; we need a doctors and engineers, and business men. It is strange that these programmes are encouraged, but where is the rebuilding of the nation? Surely this is more important. But when I came to the UK, I observed that these programmes are very common here. Everybody watches them for entertainment. So I begin to understand where these new ideas in my country are coming from.

So I see that Britain is a good place for some things, but for other things it is not good at all. I think it is good that it gives freedom to women in many things, which I like. But this freedom leads to many problems also, which can make life difficult for women in many ways.

So I respond to Nel. I am also free to pray and fast and eat halaal meat. This is my personal choice also, and is not enforced on me by the government, or even the dominant males in my country. However the government is important in that it decides the laws in society that allow the progression of the nation. My country is very unfortunate that we have had many decades of war, involving foreign countries like Russia, America, UK and Pakistan. I wonder why they must fight their wars in my country? These wars mean that progress has been impossible in my country.

So while I see there is a feeling that the UK has progressed due to its freedoms, I feel that these freedoms are actually the cause of many problems. The government is helpless in resolving these problems too, because they support the idea of unrestrained freedom. This freedom, rather than progressing society, leads to social problems.

I am happy to return to Kabul. I think I would like to visit here again, but I would fear for my children to be brought up in this country, because even with education, job and money, I think people are not really happy inside.

‘Women, Weddings, War & Me’ was aired at 11.30pm on Thursday 14th April on BBC1, and is available to view on iPlayer. It told the story of a young British Afghani woman who visited the country of her birth to look at how women were treated under the government post Taliban.

Visit: http://bayyinafoundation.blogspot.com

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