I readily admit that I’m a product of the West, and South Asian Islamic culture is largely alien to me. Even so, it’s hard for me to imagine how any culture could be as cruel to women and girls as the one portrayed in this article about life in Afghanistan. The article portrays a tribal culture in which boys are valued as a family’s pride, while women who bear only girls are shamed.
The practice apparently reflects tribal values that go back as far as the time of the biblical patriarchs. In the tribal cultures of contemporary Afghanistan, as in ancient customs depicted in the Bible, only sons are allowed to inherit the family wealth and carry on the family name. In both cases, men are allowed to take a second wife if the first wife fails to produce a son.
In the Bible, at least, such customs were called into question. The Book of Job, which challenges any number of accepted beliefs, concludes with the aged Job choosing to give his three daughters a share of his inheritance along with his seven sons — an indication that Job’s encounter with God had led him to a new understanding of what is just and right.
One thing that is unfair and wrong in any culture is the practice described in the article as baca posh — forcing little girls to dress and act like boys. The amazing thing is that the facade of pretending that a third or fourth daughter is a boy apparently does raise a family’s status in the community, and girls raised in such fashion have a better chance of getting an education than their older, veiled sisters. But, once the girls reach puberty, their parents are likely to force them to suddenly live as young women who are destined to live in an arranged marriage, often with an older relative — surely a major shock to the child.
I know it’s easy to throw stones from a distance when I don’t know what it’s like to live in such a culture. I know there are other cultures in which women are routinely mistreated or treated as second class citizens. I know that my own culture has yet to treat women as fully equal to men. Even so, I can’t imagine any scenario where the heartless manipulation of girls and women should be condoned.
In a perverse twist, NPR’s Frontline recently reported on a custom popular in some of the same tribes, in which young boys are sold to wealthy warlords who dress the boys as girls, make them dance for men at late-night parties, and sexually abuse them.
Children should be treasured for who they are, and allowed to grow into the person they want to be. And parents, whether their children want to be teachers or policemen, homemakers or engineers, should be proud.