Monday, September 20, 2010

Esther Hyneman: Telling The Truth About Aisha.

Esther Hyneman is tough, warm and wise, and the probably the finest and most effective ex-pat NGO worker I ever met in Afghanistan. After she retired from teaching women's studies in New York (Esther's got one of those sweet working-class New York accents - Brooklyn? I forget) she headed off to work with Afghan women on the front lines of their struggle for emancipation. She's dug in for the long haul. What she says about Afghanistan always matters, but what she says about the Bibi Aisha "controversy" matters particularly because it was the women's shelter where Esther works in Kabul that cared for Aisha, and Esther saw Aisha almost every day for five months, and it was Esther and her sisters who arranged for Aisha's reconstructive surgery in America.

Aisha herself was very clear about her reasons for allowing her beautiful face to appear on the cover of Time magazine: "They are the people that did this to me. How can we reconcile with them?"

At last we have Esther's account of Aisha's story, and Esther's take on Aisha's "troops out" detractors and their morally squalid appeals for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban:

The glass is definitely half full--with women in Parliament, facing obstructions to be sure but still there, with thousands of women and girls saved from unimaginable horror by women's organizations, with the slow but steady reach of services into the countryside, with a decided increase of women's access to justice, with the marriage registration requirement in place to stop underage marriages, with millions of girls in school and parents in barely accessible rural areas begging us to open schools for their daughters. This extraordinary progress, which has been achieved by local Afghan and international men and women risking their lives, tells us what is possible in Afghanistan. But it will swirl down the drain into the Taliban sewer if troops withdraw. The momentum will be reversed and we will never see it again in our lifetimes.

In a similar vein, read this essay by Lauryn Oates, of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, writing in The Propagandist. Also earlier, in the National Post: Telling Lies About Aisha.

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