August 8th, 2010Often glossed over in the story of Aisha, the beautiful 18-year-old woman who was disfigured as retribution for running away from her inhuman marriage, was that although it was a Taliban commander who ordered her horrific punishment, it was her husband (also a Taliban commander) who held her down. This sort of human rights abuse has been going on since pre-history in the form of “blood debt”, a sacrificial attempt at holding the fabric of society together. To redress an offense, the family of the perpetrator gives a child in marriage to the wronged family. In Aisha’s case, she was married off to atone for her uncle having killed of one of her husband’s relatives. These unfortunate women are generally treated as slaves and subject to all kinds of abuse from their husbands, mothers-in-law and other family members. The perpetrators of this crime against human rights were Taliban, but it didn’t happen because they were Taliban. As with honor killings, the custom of murdering women for destroying the perceived honor of their family, whether proven or only suspected, the blood debt is a means of restoring honor to the family and stability to the society at large. The father and/or brothers who carry it out are following the age-old customs of their culture. Even completely eradicating the Taliban wouldn’t put an end to the brutality of these practices. Rather, the way to improve human rights in the long run is through rural education in areas such as the village Aisha came from. It’s great that a large number of foreign NGOs are currently working in Afghanistan, some even in remote provinces, to promote education and build schools. As crucial as it is to educate girls, transforming society through human rights education is also important for boys who will grow up to be the ones in control. However, the best, most sustainable way for this to happen is via Afghan NGOs. Not only are they mostly more cost effective, but they are more likely to be accepted by local people and to weather the changes coming forth in the next few years. We can participate in this by supporting such organizations as The Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), an NGO founded by Sakina Yacoobi steming from her work in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. AIL’s curriculum, based on the Koran, teaches about women’s and human rights in addition to academics. They spread their work exponentially by training teachers in modern teaching methods and by focusing on opening schools in the rural areas where they are invited. (They have more requests than they can handle and more contributions can help them reach farther.) You can contribute to their work via their American partner, Creating Hope International.