The house that Sahar built
Amid the senseless killing, one girl’s life is celebrated by the first Internet café for Afghan women.
Though some progress has been achieved, women in Afghanistan continue to be victimized by tribal ethnocentrism, the politics of war and a patriarchal society that openly embraces misogyny as a tool of repression. One group of daring women has defied the suicide bombers, encroaching military and centuries-old traditions by opening an Internet café, in honor of a girl who tried to stand up for her rights, only to be murdered.
Usually not a contentious idea
Opening an Internet café may or may not cause a divisive stir, depending on where you go in the world. For residents of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, it could prove to be life threatening.
The idea of providing the public with access to the Internet, along with food and beverages, has been going on since Wayne Gregori opened the SF Net Coffeehouse Network in San Francisco, California during 1991. Achieving the same goal, within a country sometimes referred to as “the graveyard of empires,” is a different matter altogether, especially for the women of Afghanistan.
Though the Taliban is said to have collapsed, the United States is currently engaged in talks with the group, a key indicator of its lasting political power in Afghanistan. This is the extremist faction that generally prohibits women from working, using the Internet or leaving their homes unless chaperoned – along with other actions that are often much worse. What happens when the U.S. military leaves the country? Will the Taliban go back to their practiced abhorrence of women as a sexually defined group?
These are the questions on the minds of Afghan citizens, including the activists, “YoungWomen4Change” who recently celebrated International Woman’s Day 2012 by opening a new female-only Internet café in Kabul. Thanks to donations, fundraisers and ample hard work, an Internet dream has slowly become reality for the women there.
The establishment has been named to commemorate Sahar Gul, a 15 year old who lost her life, though not to a radical terrorist bomb or a wartime bullet gone astray.
Pointless loss in an already war torn region
Gul was able to avoid the dogs of war as well as clashing orthodoxies but not the perils cast upon her gender. Financially strapped, Gull’s in-laws demanded she become a prostitute. After countless refusals, they simply killed her.
Reuters news service published “Afghanistan opens first women-only internet café,” reported by Aime Ferris-Rotman on March 8, 2012, which explains why Sahar Gul was remembered:
“’There are a lot of Sahar Guls in Afghanistan. There are women every day facing violence,’ said Mohammad Jawad Alizada, 29, who oversaw the café’s creation and is a volunteer from the male advocacy wing of the group.”
The house that Sahar built is already having a positive effect, evidenced by one young woman in the same Reuters piece:
“At the net café’s opening, high school student Sana Seerat bemoaned the lack of attention given to women: ‘We never have things that are just for women, everything in Afghanistan is always for men. But we are the same, equal.’”
What’s in store for the future of the Sahar Gul Internet café and women’s rights in Afghanistan? From now until July 2014, when U.S. armed forces pull out, the café and its patrons may be safe from the Taliban, as well as any angry in-laws. The women’s rights movement will continue to move ahead. After that, it’s merely speculation.