27/04/2012 18:07 BST | Updated 27/06/2012 06:12 BST

Diary from Kabul - The Commoditisation of Women

The Cost: Everything has a price in this world, and each society places its value on different items. In the West it's cars and houses, TVs and eating out. Agrarian Africans will place the greatest value on their livestock, the Japanese choose sushi and whaling. Recently a tuna fish sold at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market for $736,000, a scandalous price for some chewy meat in a country recently decimated by a tsunami. But you trade what you have I suppose and in Afghanistan, the asset that most have that will provide the greatest return are their daughters.

So many of the things I have mentioned in my diaries just seem anathema to those with western sensibilities, we would never consider selling our daughters. If someone asked to buy mine they would get pretty short shrift, but in Afghanistan, as in other countries in this part of the world it is deemed perfectly acceptable.

Joining up the dots is an odd way of looking at things that seem to sit in isolation, but when you do lots of things slot into place. If you have one daughter you can get 'X' amount of money in a prearranged settlement, but if you have three, or four then you can really bag up. Take into account that education in rural Afghanistan is myopically limited and contraception is non- existent, and the bleak scenario is that most families have up to 10 children. If you then recognise that most Christian families in the west have just two children, or less, because they do have education and contraception, well you begin to comprehend why religious and political entities in the west fear the dramatic rise of Islam. It's simple maths, which along with other geopolitical ideologies explains a little of our foreign policies.

This commoditisation of women of course has far more damaging consequences for each individual who is sold at a fair price than the world as a whole. Many men here really do see women as something they completely possess and for their prurient interests only. My translator falls in love every day, well he calls it love. "I really LOVE her boss, she's the one for me". In four months I have heard this applied to probably 40 different women. No, not women, GIRLS. He picked me up recently to do a days shooting and immediately announced that he was in LOVE with his first cousin. "How old is she?" I enquired.' "15". "Have you slept with her yet?" "No, but we have kissed. I LOVE her, I WANT her", he replied. My translator is 26 and is kissing his 15 year-old first cousin. And to try to explain that what he is feeling is not love, but merely a trashing in his pants would be a vacant waste of syllables.

I asked him last week how it was going with the new 'lust' of his life and he was not a happy lad. Her father has married her off to a rich man. "Why do I always lose girls because I have no money?" No comment.

And this sense of ownership displays itself in other curious ways. On my recent trip to Mazar e Sharif, friends tried to organise accommodation for me, but the only available house was lived in by two Afghan women. Whilst they were related to my friends, and would have happily "put me up", in Afghan culture you cannot enter the house of single women if no male relative is present.

Its meaning will be misconstrued and you will become a social pariah. These were two elderly women, but there you are. The man I live with has adopted seven boys, and he is paying for them to be educated at the best school in Kabul, he is setting them up for a better life. I asked him recently why he had not adopted girls and he said at the time, he lived alone, and therefore he couldn't adopt any girls. It's one of his great regrets. He has recently done so, an eleven year old has started staying here, her father had been beating here and he has stepped in. Some of the senior males who live here have been questioning his decision, and he is under pressure to send her back to her violent father - but of course he won't.

Another of the adopted boys father's didn't own a car. He wanted one of course, so he sold his daughter, the boy's sister has become a slave I suppose, but his father has a shiny new car - not quite a win-win unless you are the seller or the buyer, and throw in the dodgy car salesman for good measure. Women are commodities in Afghanistan.

So I will leave you with this story. A relation of the man I live with, an uneducated but vaguely 'elite' filled his life with decadence. His wife was pregnant but she still got up every day at 4am, lit the fire and spent a day of drudgery serving this bigot, presumably until she died and the pain of her living could finally pass. Many Afghan houses have round ovens built into the floor for bread-making, and one day whilst her husband entertained himself with a troop of dancing boys he had hired, she slavishly made bread over the incendiary heat of the oven, when her waters broke. She quietly went next door to an adjoining room, and with the help of another lady, gave birth. The child was washed and swaddled in a blanket. Twenty minutes later she returned to her bread-making duties, laying her new born next to the oven. In all that time her husband never moved from watching the young boys dancing, he never acknowledged the birth of his child. Which is odd because if it had been a boy he could have doted with the best of them, and if it was a girl he could have bought a Corolla.

My westernised nephew said this to his father recently. "Men rule the world dad, but women control men, so really women rule the world". Very smart and intuitive, and quite possibly true in some households. But in Afghanistan women are the missing and beaten half of humanity.


A young girl at school, Herat, Afghanistan - what future?