It is so easy to get caught up in day-today issues, and to lose an awareness of what is happening in the world. We take so many of our rights for granted, and we are so quick to challenge perceived injustice, that we can sometimes lose a sense of perspective about how lucky we are, and how other people do not have the same privileges that we do. It can take a news story from another part of the world, another culture, to humble us into a sense of reality, and this is exactly what happened when I read this article recently: â€œWomenâ€™s net cafe is small victory for Afghan equalityâ€.
This story highlighted the success of a women-only internet cafe in Kabul, a project set up by a small Afghan non-profit organisation, Young Women for Change. The reason an internet cafe for women is so important is that it allows the women who use it to connect with the outside world in a way which is often denied to them in their homes, and â€“ unfortunately and worryingly, increasingly â€“ in their communities. Mixed internet cafes are intimidating places for Afghan women – as the author of the article describes them, they are â€œfrequented mainly by underemployed men sitting around watching porn and harassing female customersâ€ â€“ and so the institution of a women-only zone is liberating and empowering.
The real victory, however, is not in the setting up of the cafe, but in the fact that a third of the 45 members of Young Women for Change are actually young men, who volunteer their time to speak to other men about womenâ€™s rights and to make changes that suit women (including this cafe). In a country where women suffered terrible abuses under the rule of the Taliban, and where it is feared that as international support withdraws in 2014, a repressive conservative regime may be reintroduced, the fact that young men are willing to speak up for womenâ€™s rights is tremendously encouraging.
No-one â€“ man or woman â€“ should accept a situation where any other human being faces discrimination, violence, restriction of liberty and injustice just because of their gender. The story of this Afghan internet cafe has a spark of hope within it. Let us hope that it lights a beacon.