Despite significant progress, selling social reform to large segments of the population can be a major problem in many countries. In Afghanistan, even after 10 years of various education and political efforts as well as investing millions of dollars into the country to sell social reform, the status of women remains low.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a call for change with a report in 2012 that highlighted the ongoing issue of women who are arrested and imprisoned for fleeing abusive family situations.
The authors advocated that the Afghan government stop imprisoning such women. Putting women in jail for this is not supported by the Afghan penal code or Islamic law, HRW officials argued at a press conference for mostly Afghan journalists. The threat of imprisonment also discourages women from reporting abuse or trying to leave dangerous situations.
That human rights officials were met by a few concerning responses from journalists, considered to be among the most educated in the country, highlighted just how high the hurdles may be, Tom Peter reports:
One local reporter asked, “If this is not considered a crime and it becomes rampant in the society and everyone does it, don’t you think that in a society like Afghanistan it will lead to a kind of anarchism here and everything will get out of control? What will be the consequences?”
And still, women and advocates for women’s rights press on, lead by example, and win small victories, even in very traditional societies. In Nepal, for example, the custom of chaupadi forces menstruating women to sleep outside of their homes:
For generations here, menstruating women have slept outside of their homes, in small sheds or in the family stable. They are considered impure and untouchable, so they cannot enter the house or touch communal water or food. The activist, Dhurbar Sunar, is not having it: “I think this is a social crime in terms of women’s rights,” he says.
Mr. Sunar is the Project Coordinator at Samabikas, a local organization pushing to abolish chaupadi here in Achham district and elevate women’s status. They work village by village, declaring them “chaupadi free” as they go.
Another small victory, reports Christa Case Bryant from Saudi Arabia, is the effect of sports on girls in the very traditional country. Though girls are not permitted to play in the presence of men, and it’s still very much kept quiet:
"Sport is ... a small window [into change]," says businesswoman Lamya Al Abdulkarim, who recently helped launch a new girls' soccer program in Saudi Arabia.
The official and societal resistance stem from concerns that female participation in sports will erode Saudi norms, including modest dress and segregation of the sexes.
The skills the girls are learning on the field have translated into bigger wins: One player has been recruited by a female investment fund manager, who says that the strategy, tactics, and quickness honed on the soccer field would be key assets in reading the stock market.
And it’s a broad shift in attitude that is being cited as one of the keys to a quietly promising drop in the rate of violence against women in the US. The rate of partner-to-partner violence dropped 64 percent between 1994 and 2010, according to a US Justice Department report, The Monitor’s Whitney Eulich reports:
“Many in the field cite a broad shift in attitudes that began in the 1980s and '90s, crediting public awareness campaigns, national legislation protecting victims, and subsequent training of police and prosecutors to recognize intimate partner violence as a crime, rather than as a private matter.