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Vatican-inspired group shows solidarity with Afghan women

Economy of Francesco has invited people of all walks of life to support women in the war-torn nation

Vatican-inspired group shows solidarity with Afghan women

An activist holds a sign in support of Afghan women during a rally in Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal on Aug. 27. (Photo: AFP)

European colonial rule in Asia played a major role in molding the Western discourse on Islam and Muslim women.

From the colonialists to the modern Westerners, the image of the veiled woman has symbolized oppression. Her presumed inability to speak for herself made a case for the colonial enterprise’s civilizing mission or the modern image makeover on Western lines, which focuses on appearances.

Afghan women are now in dire need of international support to stave off the situation they find themselves in, attributed in large part to the earlier Western interventions based on the false assumption that war and occupation were essential to free the Central Asian country.

Monsignor John Putzer, chargé d'affaires of the Holy See's Permanent Mission to the UN, urged the world community on Aug. 24 to start an “inclusive dialogue” to achieve the goal of peace.

Earlier, Pope Francis had expressed his concern on the grave situation in Afghanistan on Aug 15, the day the Taliban took control of Afghan capital Kabul.

Only through talks, he said, “can the battered population of that country — men, women, elderly and children — return to their own homes, and live in peace and security, in total mutual respect.”

The organization and its youth brigade comprise young economists, entrepreneurs, theologians, environmentalists, developers and researchers 

On Aug. 28, Economy of Francesco, a movement inspired by Pope Francis, launched a campaign in support of Afghan women with a global march to highlight their predicament under Taliban rule.

The campaign encourages people to carry in their hands and in the windows of their houses, “a blue cloth, like the one that wants to hide Afghan women,” a reference to the burqa or long, loose garment covering the whole body from head to toe.

By displaying this gesture every day, they hope to convey to the women of Afghanistan that “we are with you, we see you, we hear you,” Economy of Francesco said in a statement.

The organization and its youth brigade comprise young economists, entrepreneurs, theologians, environmentalists, developers and researchers engaged in changing the world’s economic system.

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In a statement, it said the women of Afghanistan want to be free. “Bravely, in the streets of Kabul, they shout: ‘Afghan women exist’. And they ask: ‘Support our voices, don’t let us disappear! World, can you hear us?’” the statement said.

Its campaign includes a call to “take to the streets, in the streets of our cities, to shout: ‘Afghan women exist. Together we stand!'”

People are encouraged to tag photos and videos with the hashtags #AfghanWomenExist, #TogetherWeStand, #AfghanistanIsCalling.

When the Taliban ran Afghanistan in the late 1990s prior to the arrival of US-led forces, Afghan women were not allowed to walk alone in the streets, were pelted with stones if convicted of adultery and denied education after crossing the age of 12.

The Bush administration co-opted and politicized the ideological rallying cry of saving the "oppressed Afghan Muslim woman" before it launched the war in the  country in 2001.

In November 2001, a month after Operation Enduring Freedom was launched by Bush, the then first lady, Laura Bush, had taken to US radio waves and assured listeners that the “fight against terrorism” was also a “fight for the rights and dignity of women.”

The twin figures of the jihadist fundamentalists and their female victims helped popularize the view that the Taliban are the antithesis of everything Western culture holds in high esteem.

In her radio address, the first lady went on to affirm “… in Afghanistan, we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.”

The project of women’s liberation roped in celebrities and feminist leaders after Afghan women’s veiled bodies became a visible sign of an invisible enemy and unveiling women became a symbol of freedom and democracy.

The restrictions that the Taliban in their earlier avatar had imposed on women were indeed atrocious by any standard

To wage the war on Afghan soil, the liberation of Afghan women was conveniently dovetailed with geostrategic interests to whitewash a hardcore military campaign.

The US declared a war on terror to be played out on the bodies of Afghan women.

Twenty years later, George W. Bush bemoaned the US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. Afghan women and girls, he warned, would suffer “unspeakable harm” on account of the withdrawal.

The restrictions that the Taliban in their earlier avatar had imposed on women were indeed atrocious by any standard.

However, the fundamentalist outfit seems to have mellowed of late, which augers well for the Afghan women who are caught in the repressive nature of traditional tribal practices.

The new Taliban have declared a general amnesty and announced that revenge is not their agenda. Rule based on the inclusive Islamic governance system is what they are promising.

Women would be allowed to pursue education and jobs but “they would have to conduct themselves within the tenets of Sharia,” according to Abdul QaharBalkhi, the Taliban’s foreign spokesperson and a member of its cultural commission.

The “inclusive dialogue” proposed by Monsignor Putzer can start with the neo-Taliban for the betterment of Afghan women, who form 49 percent of the country’s 32.9 million people. 

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