There were a lot of celebrations last month because 90 years ago, women in America were (finally) given the right to vote. And even though I was one of the women "publicizing" this important anniversary, it's important to remember just how lucky we are to live in America, rather than in a country where women really are (and probably always have been) undervalued.
Bibi Aisha is a perfect example of what can happen to a woman who refuses to "obey" the cultural norms of a repressive society. Today, Aisha is a teenager from Afghanistan who is living in Calabasas, California at the Grossman Burn Foundation. Aisha is there to undergo surgery needed to repair her nose and both ears. She lost them because she refused to stay with the man her father had chosen--when she was only twelve years old--to be her husband. It is expected that it will take about six months to complete her reconstructive surgeries.
Aisha and her younger sister were given to the family of a Taliban member as part of a "Baad," which is a customary form of settling tribal disputes in remote areas of Afghanistan. Aisha's uncle had killed a relative of the "groom" so her father gave his two daughters to the victim's family as compensation.
When she reached puberty, Aisha was married to the Taliban fighter, but actually spent most of her time living with her in-laws because he was in hiding or in combat. Aisha and her sister were essentially slaves, and were beaten repeatedly in retaliation for her uncle's crime.
When Aisha fled, her husband and his brother (some say it was his uncle) tracked her down in Kandahar and took her back to Oruzgan, the province where his family lived. In the Pashtun culture, a man who has been "shamed" by his wife is considered to have "lost his nose." So, in retaliation, they took her to the mountains, where one held her down and the other cut off both ears and her nose. They then left her on a mountain side to bleed to death.
Somehow, she made her way to safety, and American aid workers took her to the Women for Afghan Women shelter in Kabul. Aisha cannot read or write, but the group helped her learn to do handicrafts. I've written before about my admiration for Greg Mortensen and his work to establish schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But with the Taliban's increasing strength, some of the girl schools are being forced to close.
As one member of Parlament, Haji Farid said recently " Why our people focusing on education and sending girls to school? Boys walk three, four, five kilometers to their school. How can a girl walk two, three, four kilometers? During a war you cannot send a girl beyond her door. No one can guarantee her honor. So it is hard to send her daughter to school. "
The United Nations estimates that nearly ninety percent of women in Afghanistan face some sort of domestic abuse, and in an entire country there are fewer than a dozen women shelters. And a popular Kabul TV channel accuses those shelters of being sites for prostitution!
Aisha's damaged face appeared on the cover of Time magazine this summer, and her story prompted Christiane Amanpour of ABC to ask Nancy Pelosi if America was "going to abandon the women of Afghanistan?"
Looking forward to your comments...