Using the Language of Women’s Rights

Extract from email dated March 10th 2009

I have just waved through a stack of news reports on Afghanistan about the rising backlash by men whenever an issue of ‘women’s rights’ come up. Though to an extent, initiating reform through Islam has created an appeal amongst some, the language which we still commonly use i.e ‘women’s rights’, ‘gender-mainstreaming’ (+ there is no Dari equivalent of the word gender) and ‘women’s equality’ is sometimes more likely to quash any engagement with men than to revive it.

How does one talk about women’s rights without confronting the male? What kind of language and reasoning do we use that gives him a sense of agency such that he is not the accused, but the solution? How do we talk about women’s rights without creating the binary of female-victim/male-oppressor and without making the ‘female-victim’ the central theme?

There is a story called ‘The Weeping Prophet’ – very simple story. A man throws his beloved daughter into a well. Then fills it up with earth. She suffocates to death. When the Prophet hears of this story, it is narrated that he cried until his beard straggled with water. There’s a subtle lesson here – about the worth of the female child – without the ‘incessant’ slogan ‘Women are Equal to Men’ glaring at the readers face.

My question is: How do we speak women’s rights in a country like Afghanistan?

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