Saturday, March 27, 2010

What is the best option for Afghanistan?

What is the best option for Afghanistan?

a. More number of USA/NATO forces and a prolonged war to wipe out Taliban

b. Gradual withdrawal of USA/NATO forces and handing over of power to Karzai and 'good' Taliban

c.Immediate withdrawal of USA/NATO forces and leave Afghanistan for its own people

My feeling is the answer is c. Immediate withdrawal of Occupation forces and leaving Afghanistan to its people is the best and most democratic option.

Foreign troops do not grow democracy and peace especially in a complex geo-political situation like that in Afghanistan. If it could have succeeded it should have won the battle for peace and democracy within a short period of time.After 8 years of occupation by USA/NATO forces the chances of the Occupying Army 'teaching' the people democracy is very slim. On the other hand the Occupation and killing of hundreds of civilians is in turn fueling insurgency.

Let us hear what those fighting the war lords and fundamentalists have to say:

Malalai Joya

As a teacher in the secret schools that educated girls – strictly banned by the Taliban – she walked around western Afghanistan at the end of the 1990s with books hidden beneath the enveloping burqa.

Elected the youngest member of the Afghan parliament – and suspended for her outspoken criticism of the country's top officials – Malalai Joya has been labelled the bravest woman in Afghanistan.

Small, soft-spoken and now 31, she has survived at least four assassination attempts and is angry at the oppressive life she is forced to lead, dodging enemies she has denounced as bloody-handed warlords and drug kingpins. She sleeps in safe houses, with a rotating squad of bodyguards securing the doors. She goes out only in a billowing burqa. Even her wedding was held in secret.

Malalai Joya says;
"Liberation was just a big lie.The United States/NATO should go. As long as foreign troops are in the country we will be fighting two enemies instead of one."

Yes, she says, there is a risk of civil war, as happened when the Soviet Union gave up the fight against U.S.-backed Afghan Islamists 20 years ago. But it would still be better than "night raids, torture and aerial bombardment" that killed hundreds of Afghan civilians while the Taliban made steady gains.

Joya believes Afghans are now better prepared to battle the Taliban alone – if the warlords are disarmed, and the international community helps build a society that can push back against extremism.

It is a tall order, she admits. But "resistance has increased, and people are becoming more aware of democracy and human rights. They need humanitarian and educational support."

But not, she adds, at the point of a gun.

The Afghan public, she adds, are on her side, pointing to a recent opinion poll showing 60 per cent of Afghans want an immediate NATO withdrawal. Many people in Afghanistan were hopeful, she says, about Barack Obama – "but he is actually intensifying the policy of George Bush... I know his election has great symbolic value in terms of the struggle of African-Americans for equal rights, and this struggle is one I admire and respect. But what is important for the world is not whether the President is black or white, but his actions. You can't eat symbolism."

US policy is driven by geopolitics, she says, not personalities. "Afghanistan is in the heart of Asia, so it's a very important place to have military bases – so they can control trade very easily with other Asian powers such as China, Russia, Iran and so on.

"But it can be changed by Americans," she adds. She is passionate now, her voice rising. "I say to Obama – in my area, 150 people were blown up by US troops in one incident this year. If your family had been there, would you send even more troops and even more bombs? Your government is spending $18m (£11m) to make another Guantanamo jail in Bagram. If your daughter might be detained there, would you be building it? I say to Obama – change course, or otherwise tomorrow people will call you another Bush."


Founded in 1977,Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan [RAWA] is the oldest political and social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy, and women’s rights in an Afghanistan blighted by fundamentalism. Their members risk personal safety and dedicate their lives to improving conditions for all Afghan women; many have been assassinated, included RAWA’s founder, Meena.
The organization calls for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops.
During October 2009, RAWA sponsored a speaking tour of the U.S. Representing RAWA’s Foreign Committee, Zoya spoke in a meeting in a University in Iowa,USA:

“I want to focus on the eight years of occupation by the United States and NATO countries, “Unfortunately, the West’s impression that Afghanistan has been liberated by the United States, that Afghanistan is a free country, that we are enjoying freedom and democracy to our country is untrue,” said Zoya.

“Yes, Afghanistan is free for the warlords. Afghanistan is free for drug lords. Afghanistan is free for rapists to rape children and women. Afghanistan is free for United States troops to kill our civilians, our children, our women, day by day in so-called mistakes,” said Zoya.
Zoya is a RAWA member whose parents were killed by extremists in Afghanistan when she was in her teens. She honors her mother’s work for women’s rights by continuing in her footsteps. Education of women, often in refugee camps and orphanages, has produced a generation of women like Zoya who are able in turn to educate us about conditions in their country.A refugee currently living in Pakistan, Zoya uses a pseudonym when traveling and speaking because her life has been threatened by fundamentalists. She also asked photographers not to photograph her face.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of its geo-political, economic, and regional strategic goals and to build military bases there, said Zoya, “not to liberate women.”

Freedom, democracy, and justice cannot be exported and forced on other countries at gunpoint, but instead are achieved over time through a long and arduous process, said Zoya.

“Those who claim to donate these values to the Afghan people through force will only push our country into slavery. It is our responsibility to stand up to fundamentalists and occupations,” said Zoya.

The women of Afghanistan, after eight years of occupation, offer conflicting advice, depending on their position in society. If the women are in Kabul, are educated and affluent, and have family members in office or are part of the government, they sometimes say, “our safety is in danger if U.S. troops leave." If the women are in the countryside (and 90% are) they say, “get the troops out now. Our rights, our freedoms, our safety have not improved in eight years of occupation — and the occupation fuels the insurgency.” In this complex war-torn nation, both opinions are valid.

Both Zoya and Malalai must live in safe houses and move frequently, as their truth-telling has resulted in death threats against them. Yet asked what she fears, Malalai said: “I don’t fear death. I fear political silence against injustice.” And from her website this statement, echoes fears raised during the rise of fascism in 20th century Europe: “The silence of good people is worse than the actions of bad people.”
Although the  robotic killer drones strike wedding parties and funerals, crossing into Pakistan freely, the insurgency grows. Terrorists are created faster than they are being killed. But maybe that’s the real goal?

Speak up and expose the so-called war on terror for what it really is: a marketing strategy for corporate profits, Zoya adds..

Although the group initially welcomed the U.S. presence, RAWA changed its stance after learning that the United States is  helping fundamentalist groups.

“I think it’s the Afghan people’s responsibility to fight [against fundamentalist groups],” she said.

Yes Afghanistan should fight its own battle against fundamentalism.The rest of the World should  support the democratic forces from outside..

Let me end this post with a quote of Malalai Joya.

"They will kill me but they will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice of all Afghan women. You can cut the flower, but you cannot stop the coming of spring".

links and acknowledgments
the star
the independent

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reservation for women. What can we expect from bahus and betis?

The issue of Reservation for women in Indian Parliament and State legislatures is heating up the already hot summer in this country. Opinions are divided and keenly debated. Let us examine the issue from all viewpoints and try to come to a conclusion on the merits and de-merits of the bill.

What the Women's reservation bill envisages?

 The bill proposes to reserve for women 33% of seats in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies for next 15 years from the day it becomes the law. The constituencies are to be decided by lot and will change in each elections there by ensuring that by end of 15 years all constituencies in India will have had a women member representing it.

For the Bill
Those who support the bill says that while the Indian constitution, one of the most progressive in the world guarantees equal rights for men and women, in reality the gender based discrimination is still a major issue. Bias against women and girls is reflected in the demographic ratio of 933 females for every 1,000 males. 1 in 5 of Indian women die during childbirth, and that account for more than 20 percent of the global maternal deaths. As far as political participation of women is concerned, the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 was the only time when women candidates witnessed a 10 percent participation in Parliament
. Women. need reservation in Parliament and state legislatures because society is “paternalistic” and it is difficult for them to contest and win elections against the “established and entrenched male chauvinistic order in the society”. Participation of more number of women in active politics will help break the gender stereotype and help in enactment of more gender sensitive legislations. They claim that legislatures will become less corrupt and less number of criminals will be elected.

Against the Bill [from Manushi online petition]
The Bill provides for reservation on rotation basis through a lottery system, which means that two-thirds of the incumbent members will be forcibly unseated in every general election and the remaining will remain in a limbo till the last moment. Such compulsory unseating violates the basic principal of democratic representation and jeopardises the possibility of effective planning to contest by nurturing a political constituency for both male and female candidates. As legislators will be denied the possibility of seeking re election from the same constituency, politics will become even less accountable than at present. Since a seat will be reserved once in 15 years, males who will be pushed out of their constituency are likely to field their own female relatives as proxy candidates as a stopgap arrangement and women will not get the chance to cultivate deep roots in their constituency. Women will be ghettoised and forced to fight elections only against other women. They will lack the legitimacy of being mainstream politicians.

 Alternative Proposal [Manushi, CSDS, Loksatta]
  A law should be enacted amending The Representation of the People Act, 1951, to make it mandatory for every recognized political party to nominate women candidates for election in at least one-third of the constituencies. In the event of any recognized party failing to nominate one-third women candidates, 2 male candidates will lose the Party symbol. This Bill has the following advantages: Firstly, parties will be free to field women candidates where they can offer a good fight rather than in pre-fixed lottery based constituencies, where they may or may not have viable women candidates. Thus there is flexibility and promotion of natural leadership. A woman candidate will be contesting both against female and/or male candidates of rival parties. The democratic choice of voters is not restricted to compulsorily electing only women candidates.

Unlike with the lottery system of reserved constituencies, in which women's presence is likely to get ossified at 33 percent since there would be resistance to letting women contest from non-reserved constituencies, this model allows for far greater flexibility in the number and proportion of women being elected to legislatures. If women are candidates for one-third of all seats contested by each party, theoretically they could even win the vast majority of seats - all on merit.

My Take
I support the Women's reservation Bill, as I believe it is a measure in right direction that can reduce the gender disparity in India especially in the political arena.
Let me examine the points made out against the Bill.
 It is undemocratic because a person cannot contest a particular seat because of his gender.
In 90% of seats women were kept out because of traditional/cultural reservation for men. Was that democratic? Here this reservation is an affirmative action, forcing political parties to be more gender sensitive and there by reducing the disparity. In legislatures. If this measure is not implemented now, it may take at least another 50 to 100 years for us to see 33% seats filled by women.

 Effective nurturing of constituencies by MPs will not take place, as they will not be sure of re-contesting.
Here it is implied that women who get elected in reserved constituency will not be fielded again as the constituency become un-reserved.
Let us see if there is any data to prove or disprove this point from the experience from Local Body elections.
 In a paper published in American Political Science Review [Feb 2009] analysing Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections of 1997 and 2002, Rikhil Bhavnani says that    
"the probability of a woman winning office conditional on the constituency being reserved for women in the previous election is approximately five times the probability of a woman winning office if the constituency had not been reserved for women The data suggest that reservations work in part by introducing into politics women who are able to win elections after reservations are withdrawn and by allowing parties to learn that women can win elections." 
In other words chance of women getting her seat even in unreserved quota is high and also her chance of winning again is also much better..  In 1997 in open constituencies only 3.4% women won while in 2002 it more than doubled to 8.6%.
This proves that many women will be given tickets again and many will win in open constituencies.
There will some dislocations but that is worthwhile if we can get a pool of women active in politics.

Women elected will be proxies[bahu-beti] useful only for keeping the seats warm for male members of the family.
I feel there is an implied sexism in this viewpoint. Unfortunately powerful families controlling politics of an area is very common in India. Members of such powerful families, both males and females are active in politics. Some are efficient while others are not so good regardless of the gender. How can one conclude that women members of such families will be useless and inefficient  proxies while males will have an effective voice of their own?
Let us take the so-called 'first' family of India. Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter was in all counts much more efficient and powerful than his grand sons. Even the 'foreign' granddaughter in law seems to be much better than the 'Indian' grand sons.

Radu ban and Vijayendra Rao in a study of 523 village Panchayaths say that
We show that women elected in reserved constituencies are not tokens. They are as likely to be persuaded to contest by political elites as unreserved presidents. They are from the upper end of the distribution of women and tend to be more knowledgeable about political activities, more politically experienced, and wealthier than the average woman.

So such an argument has no basis.

Alternative proposal to make it compulsory for political parties to  reserve  for women 33% in their  list of candidates.....

This makes it easy for political parties to allocate seats to women  where there is only a remote possibility of winning. Thus the BJP can allocate women seats in Kerala and Tamilnadu  while the CPM can give women seats in states other than Kerala and West Bengal. Thus the total number of women winning elections may not go up from current 10%.

What can we expect when more and more bahus and betis are elected?  

 A study of 523 villages in 4 southern states of India by Radu ban and Vijayendra Rao had the following findings.
  "Women leaders tend to be picked from among more politically knowledgeable and wealthier women. Panchayats led by women are no worse or better in their performance than those with male leaders, and women politicians may  not make decisions in line with the needs of women. Importantly, however,political experience enhances the performance of women leaders more than it does for men, women in villages which are less dominated by upper castes, and in states that have relatively mature panchayat systems, perform better than men.

Chattopadhyay and Duflo (2004) in a study in West Bengal and Rajasthan found that women tend to give more importance to water and sanitation than roads.

Lori Beaman, Raghebendra Chattopadhyay, Esther Duflo et al find evidence from West Bengal that 

"Villagers who have never been required to have a female leader prefer male leaders and perceive hypothetical female leaders as less effective than their male counterparts, when stated performance is identical. Exposure to a female leader does not alter villagers' taste preference for male leaders. However, it weakens stereotypes about gender roles in the public and domestic spheres and eliminates the negative bias in how female leaders' effectiveness is perceived among male villagers.  Consistent with our experimental findings, villagers rate their women leaders as less effective when exposed to them for the first, but not second, time. These changes in attitude are electorally meaningful: after 10 years of the quota policy, women are more likely to stand for and win free seats in villages that have been continuously required to have a female chief councillor".

How an all women panchayath in Haryana is breaking several steroetypes is illustrated in this report.

In conclusion let me warn you that women's reservation in legislatures is not a panacea for all evils in the society. The wealthy and powerful families will still rule the country unless a level playing field is created in regard to election expenditures. Females will be still discriminated and stereotyped.  The women members may not be much different in regard to corruption and in efficiency. 
But what ever be its limitations women's reservation in Indian legislatures will be a big step forward in the struggle for abolishing gender discrimination.

 IHM's post for Tehelka link

Monday, March 8, 2010

100th International Women's day

This year on March 8th 2010 we are observing the 100th International Women's day. India will celebrate it with the tabling of a bill in Rajya Sabha providing Women's reservation in National and State legislatures.

It will be apt now to look back at the history of  International Women's day.[IWD].

History of International Women's day

International Women's day was born at a time of great social turbulence and crisis. . In the years before 1910, from the turn of the 20th century, women in industrially developing countries were entering paid work in some numbers. Their jobs were sex segregated, mainly in textiles, manufacturing and domestic services where conditions were wretched and wages were low.. Trade unions were developing and industrial disputes broke out, including among sections of non-unionised women workers. In Europe, the flames of revolution were being kindled.
Major demands of early Women's movement were increase in wages,better working conditions and the right to vote in National and provincial elections.

 1908, on the last Sunday in February, socialist women in the United States initiated the first Women's Day when large demonstrations took place calling for the vote and the political and economic rights of women. The following year, 2,000 people attended a Women's Day rally in Manhattan.

In  1909 women garment workersin USA  staged a general strike. 30,000 workers struck for 13 cold, winter weeks for better pay and working conditions. The Women's Trade Union League provided bail money for arrested strikers and large sums for strike funds.

1910: In the Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin a leading German socialist proposed  a Women's Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women's rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.That conference also reasserted the importance of women's right to vote, dissociated itself from voting systems based on property rights and called for universal suffrage - the right to vote for all adult women and men Conference also called for maternity benefits which, despite an intervention by Alexandra Kollontai on behalf of unmarried mothers, were to be for married women only. It also decided to oppose night work as being detrimental to the health of most working women.

1911: As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.
Russian revolutionary and feminist, Alexandra Kollontai, in Germany at the time, helped to organise the day, and wrote that it:

exceeded all expectations. Germany and Austria .... was one seething trembling sea of women. Meetings were organised everywhere… the small towns and even in the villages, halls were packed so full that they had to ask (male) workers to give up their places for the women.

Men stayed home with their children for a change and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings.

1913-1914: International Women's Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.

1917: Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for ‘Bread and Peace’ on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

The Charter of the United Nations, signed in 1945, was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. Since then, the UN has helped create a historic legacy of internationally-agreed strategies, standards, programmes and goals to advance the status of women worldwide.
On the 50th anniversary of IWD in 1960, 729 delegates from 73 countries met in a conference in Copenhagen. It adopted a general declaration of support for the political, economic and social rights of women.
During International Women's Year in 1975, IWD was given official recognition by the United Nations and was taken up by many governments.. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. For the United Nations, International Women's Day has been observed on 8 March since 1975.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – which is observed worldwide on 8 March – is "Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All".
The  challenges to gender equality and women’s empowerment that require urgent attention as per the U.N. include:

• Little progress has been made on reducing maternal mortality rates. Every year, 536,000 women
and girls die as a result of complications during pregnancy, childbirth or following delivery,
the overwhelming majority in developing countries. Most of these complications are largely
preventable and treatable.

• Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic, with up to 70 per cent of women
experiencing violence in their lifetime. The problem remains universal, with women and girls
affected by violence in every region and every country.

• Access to labour markets and to decent work remains limited for women. In 2008, an estimated
52.6 per cent of women were in the labour force, compared with 77.5 per cent of men. Women
are more likely than men to have low-paid, low-status and vulnerable jobs, with limited or no
social protection or basic rights. A very high proportion of women in the labour force continues
to work in the informal economy.

• Serious challenges persist to women’s full and equal participation in senior decision-making
positions. These include negative stereotypes about women’s leadership roles and potential,
a lack of commitment by political parties and men leaders, inadequate funding and training
for women candidates and government officials, and discriminatory selection processes in all
sectors and at all levels.

• Women continue to be excluded from or seriously under-represented in peace negotiations,
peacebuilding and disarmament processes. Since 1992, women represented, on average, just
7.1 per cent of official delegation members, and only 2.1 per cent of signatories to peace
agreements. To date, very few women have been formal mediators.

 Since those early years, International Women's Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women's movement has helped make the commemoration a rallying point for coordinated efforts to demand women's rights and participation in the political and economic process. Increasingly, International Women's Day is a time to reflect on progress made, and a call for change and to remember acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women's rights.Women's advancement not only brings integrity and happiness to women but also better life and joy to all and the International Women's Day not only belongs to women but also to all people of the world.

Let me end this post with a quote from Lena Lewis, U S. socialist, who declared 100 years ago

 that it was not a time for celebrating anything, but rather a day for anticipating all the struggles to come when" we may eventually and forever stamp out the last vestige of male egotism and his desire to dominate over women".

pic from
Joyce Stevens article