Courage in the Streets
by Tricia Dower
Something wonderful happened yesterday. Three hundred women in Afghanistan marched to protest a new law for Shiites that appears to endorse marital rape and restrict married women’s movements outside the home. I say “appears,” because President Harmid Karzai claims “the West” has misinterpreted the intention of the law (something lost in translation?) and that the rights of women enshrined under the Afghani constitution have not been abolished. However, condemnation from other countries (misinterpretation notwithstanding) has pressured him to promise he’ll review the legislation for any violation of women’s rights.
The following articles provide background on the law and the protest: Times on Line, New York Times Opinion, and New York Time Asia Report. For me the big news is that those several hundred women had the courage to take to the streets and proclaim their disapproval of the new law. The courage to persevere as people called them whores and pelted them with stones.
I’m not that brave.
In the ‘70s, I led a group of female employees who lobbied for equal opportunity in our company. I got flak from a human resources employee —a woman—who reminded me she’d helped me get my job, and, therefore, was “disappointed” in me. But nobody called me names or assaulted me with hard objects. I didn’t lose my job. In fact, the CEO called me to his office to ask me to help him take the “affirmative action temperature” of the company. I was lucky. In another country I might have been executed. In the US, eventually I was promoted.
When I was a kid, I loved those Biblical epics in which the Christians would hang tough against lions, crucifixions, and other horrors. I would have been one of them, I was sure, one of the faithful braving all manner of indignity and suffering for what I believed to be true. I recall being caught up in the conviction of my imagined nobility at a screening of The Robe I attended with my grandmother. A stranger, a boy in the seat to my right, threatened my pre-prepubescent thigh with a cocked rubber band.
“You don’t want to do that,” I told him, implying the irredeemable loss of his immortal soul. He didn’t. I was filled with a sense of power. I had stood up to EVIL. The blessed life of a martyr was mine for the taking.
I’m ancient now and more realistic about what I can and cannot achieve by force of will and by my all too convenient cowardice. I applaud those Afghani women and say that until each of us is prepared to suffer for our convictions, we have no chance of earning a just world.