Where is the love? Could we get it from Fromm with wisdom?
As luck would have it, David Cameron has become Barack Obama’s proper ‘bro’. To be fair-minded, let us start thinking about this alleged brotherly love by not being distracted by speculative journalism in the hands of which Britain’s Prime Minister looks like a college boy who has ‘a major man crush’ on the US president. For even if it is so, let them be; the love, whatever love means, is well-reciprocated by Obama. Or so it seems. The very personal support and admiration from a Democrat President for a conservative Prime Minister couldn’t be more transparent than during their most recent meeting at the White House late last week, much to Labour’s dismay back in the UK. Obama’s timely pre-election boast to the UK Prime Minister, his public statement that Britain’s economic recovery is proof that Cameron is ‘doing something right’, is the kind of thing brothers do for each other, after all.
Evidently, Cameron is doing something right, to Obama at least. Even if Labour’s complaints that we have good reasons for not crediting Cameron for the falling oil prices, the prospect of business wages increasing, and more generally for helping restore economic growth are all well-grounded, Obama is convinced otherwise. And this is what counts most. With all that good masculine chemistry between the two men who are so ‘comfortable working together’, mesmerised by the tantalizing lures of global politics, they do perhaps in some peculiar way exemplify what Erich Fromm once called ‘the most fundamental kind of love’ – brotherly love. Except this is far from the truth.
60 years after publication, Fromm’s seminal work The Art of Loving serves as a pertinent reminder of the love that isn’t there. In the book, the renowned social psychologist, psychoanalyst and humanistic philosopher conceptualises brotherly love as the kind of love that is for all human beings, characterised by its very lack of exclusiveness, and which involves the sense of responsibility, care and respect for any other human being. This cannot be what Obama has for Cameron. For President Obama, Cameron is not just any human being; he is a super human being who has a lot to offer. A mighty British leader who promises progress on the ‘new threat’ of cyber security, with reference to the recent cyber attack allegedly launched by North Korea against Sony Pictures, Cameron is someone who has what it takes to join President Obama in a much needed anti-terror and global economy push. Cameron is a very good deal. As Fromm would have said, Obama perceives Cameron as an ‘attractive package’. From Fromm’s point of view both leaders are but splendid examples of what he termed a ‘modern man’, and this is far from being a compliment.
For Fromm, ‘modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature’. Fromm’s modern man has been transformed from a human being into a mere commodity. He is an automaton whose self-understanding, as well as understanding of the world around him, is reduced to investments, market shares, profit maximisation and the wisdom of fair exchange. A man like that cannot properly think for himself, let alone love, for love as Fromm argues requires maturity of the hart, the acquisition of which has been hindered by our social conditioning, and in particular by the Western life grounded in capitalist conditions and values. A man like that confuses love with many forms of ‘pseudo-love’ all of which represent no more than ‘disintegration of love’.
No traces of the relevant confusion can be found in a dignified wisdom characteristic of the native American Indian Chief of the Duwamish People. In his 1854 Treaty Oration, Chief Seattle made it clear that whilst he accepts the Big Chief at Washigton’s offer to buy the land of his people in return for protection against the Haidas and Tsimshians who will no longer be able to frighten Seattle’s women, children and old men, his soul and the soul of his people cannot be part of the bargain. Yes, we can accept your ‘warm’ welcome to the Hobbesian world our good White Chief, but don’t try and blind us by your pretence of a fatherly love, protection and care. We, unlike your people, haven’t forgotten how to love.
Naive hopes they are that Mr Cameron himself has the Kantian good will and an interest in drawing from Chief Seattle’s wisdom, and that he will pull himself together and save his facial expression of a decent man and his blushes for more private occasions. As Fromm reminds us, he is not quite Obama’s ‘bro’. Nevertheless, we may wonder what Obama and Cameron really do talk about in quiet moments away from the public eye. Do they ever, like good palls do, get it off their chests and admit that the glaring predicaments of their shared ambitions and Western ideals at some deeper level do get to them? Do they, for example, ever talk about their well-fed and love-starved overweight nations?
Of course, they can’t know what it really feels like for those who watch the last burger and the last fat chip of the night disappear inside their own insatiable jaws, and who desperately hope for just one more Face Book like for their new widely shared selfie, while playing Roberta Flack’s 1972, or even more recent Black Eyed Peas’, version of ‘Where is the love’? It’s a McFB world, as Professor Anis Bajrektarevic terms it and poignantly describes in this 2013 book Is There Life After Facebook?. And it is not a world which took us by surprise since ‘in a culture in which the marketing orientation prevails, and it which material success is the outstanding value, there is little reason to be surprised that human love relations follow the same pattern of exchange which governs the commodity and the labour market.’ (Fromm)
But it is also a world of many inconsistencies matched with our incredible capacity for complacency and tolerance. It should be obvious to Cameron and Obama, as much as it should be obvious to any human being capable of critical reflection, that modern capitalism needs people who self-destructively want to consume more and more and whose uncontrollable appetites, in some cases at least, lead to life-threatening diseases. It would be inconsistent to endorse capitalism and at the same time deny this crude fact.
However an acceptance of this fact about what capitalism needs inevitably entice a paradoxical nature of capitalism to emerge, and this in turn places a new demand on ‘modern man’: ditch the typically Freudian post Victorian-capitalist doom, ditch the self-deceptive leaders who lack internal consistency let alone egalitarian consciousness, and least but not last, being awaken by Fromm think a bit more about what love really means. Raising properly the very question – ‘where is the love’ – is not exclusively a romantic idea; it is also a rational requirement. Once fulfilled it is sufficient to show that it is not true that capitalism correspond to the natural needs of man.
Still fresh and accurate, hereby the excerpt from the Fromm’s Art of Loving (NY, 1955) – DEFINITION OF THE MODERN MAN:
“Our whole culture is based on the appetite for buying, on the idea of a mutually favorable exchange. Modern man’s happiness consists in the thrill of looking at the shop windows, and in buying all that he can afford to buy, either for cash or on installments. He (or she) looks at people in a similar way. For the man an attractive girl — and for the woman an attractive man — are the prizes they are after. ‘Attractive’ usually means a nice package of qualities which are popular and sought after on the personality market. What specifically makes a person attractive depends on the fashion of the time, physically as well as mentally. During the twenties, a drinking and smoking girl, tough and sexy, was attractive; today the fashion demands more domesticity and coyness. At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of this century, a man had to be aggressive and ambitious — today he has to be social and tolerant — in order to be an attractive ‘package’. At any rate, the sense of falling in love develops usually only with regard to such human commodities as are within reach of one’s own possibilities for exchange. I am out for a bargain; the object should be desirable from the standpoint of its social value, and at the same time should want me, considering my overt and hidden assets and potentialities. Two persons thus fall in love when they feel they have found the best object available on the market, considering the limitations of their own exchange values. Often, as in buying real estate, the hidden potentialities which can be developed play a considerable role in this bargain. In a culture in which the marketing orientation prevails, and in which material success is the outstanding value, there is little reason to be surprised that human love relations follow the same pattern of exchange which governs the commodity and the labor market. . .
“Modern capitalism needs men who co-operate smoothly and in large numbers; who want to consume more and more; and whose tastes are standardized and can be easily influenced and anticipated. It needs men who feel free and independent, not subject to any authority or principle or conscience — yet willing to be commanded, to do what is expected of them, to fit into the social machine without friction; who can be guided without force, led without leaders, prompted without aim — except the one to make good, to be on the move, to function, to go ahead. (p. 79/80)
“What is the outcome? Modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing marketing conditions. Human relations are essentially those of alienated automatons, each basing his security on staying close to the herd, and not being different in thought, feeling or action. While everybody tries to be as close as possible to the rest, everybody remains utterly alone, pervaded by the deep sense of insecurity, anxiety and guilt which always results when human separateness cannot be overcome. Our civilization offers many palliatives which help people to be consciously unaware of this aloneness: first of all the strict routine of bureaucratized, mechanical work, which helps people to remain unaware of their most fundamental human desires, of the longing for transcendence and unity. Inasmuch as the routine alone does not succeed in this, man overcomes his unconscious despair by the routine of amusement, the passive consumption of sounds and sights offered by the amusement industry; furthermore by the satisfaction of buying ever new things, and soon exchanging them for others. Modern man is actually close to the picture Huxley describes in his Brave New World: well fed, well clad, satisfied sexually, yet without self, without any except the most superficial contact with his fellow men, guided by the slogans which Huxley formulated so succinctly, such as: ‘When the individual feels, the community reels’; or ‘Never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today,’ or, as the crowning statement: ‘Everybody is happy nowadays.’ Man’s happiness today consists in ‘having fun.’ Having fun lies in the satisfaction of consuming and ‘taking in’ commodities, sights, food, drinks, cigarettes, people, lectures, books, movies — all are consumed, swallowed. The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the suckers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones — and the eternally disappointed ones. Our character is geared to exchange and to receive, to barter and to consume; everything, spiritual as well as material objects, becomes an object of exchange and of consumption.
“The situation as far as love is concerned corresponds, as it has by necessity, to this social character of modern man. Automatons cannot love; they can exchange their ‘personality packages’ and hope for a fair bargain. One of the most significant expressions of love, and especially of marriage with this alienated structure, is the idea of the ‘team’. In any number of articles on happy marriage, the ideal described is that of the smoothly functioning team. This description is not too different from the idea of a smoothly functioning employee; he should be ‘reasonably independent,’ co-operative, tolerant, and at the same time ambitious and aggressive. Thus, the marriage counselor tells us, the husband should ‘understand’ his wife and be helpful. He should comment favorably on her new dress, and on a tasty dish. She, in turn, should understand when he comes home tired and disgruntled, and should listen attentively when he talks about his business troubles, should not be angry but understanding when he forgets her birthday. All this kind of relationship amounts to is the well-oiled relationship between two persons who remain strangers all their lives, who never arrive at a ‘central relationship,’ but who treat each other with courtesy and who attempt to make each other feel better.
“In this concept of love and marriage the main emphasis is on finding a refuge from an otherwise unbearable sense of aloneness. In ‘love’ one has found, at last, a haven from aloneness. One forms an alliance of two against the world, and this egoism a deux is mistaken for love and intimacy.”
“modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions”
Why People Run: Motivation Theory Applied to Diverse Migration
According to a United Nations report, 3.2% of world population or 258 million people, live in a country other than their country of birth. Between 1990 and 2017,the number of international immigrants increased by 69% or 105 million, with the majority of immigration taking place between 2005 to 2017. The phenomenon of cross-border immigration is an important aspect of international relations and modern life. People migrate from their country of origin for a variety of reasons: to avoid conflicts or violence, or distressed environmental challenges; to escape poverty, to provide better opportunities for their children, to reunite with families, to obtain a better education and to find employment. They face tough and challenging decisions and take life-threating risks to make a move domestically or across the borders.
Why do people migrate from their home country and what are the motivational factors that lead to such an unforeseeable journey? How do they choose their destination? This paper applies motivational theory to this migration. I investigate the personal, social, economic, and cultural variables that are the critical basis of these motivations. Europe, with 78 million immigrants, holds the 2nd place in the world, and Germany, with the most immigrants, holds the 1st place among European countries. More than 1.6 million new immigrants arrived in Germany in 2014 .I have employed motivation theory to immigrants in Germany in order to determine why people emigrate to other countries.
Abraham Maslow believes that a person’s needs are the primary motivators for migration and categorized the need into the following five levels—physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. I have used the typology of motivational theory developed by Tartakovsky and Schwarts, who validated their theory by applying it to a sample of 158 potential Jewish emigrants from Russia to Israel .They investigated three different theoretical motivations:“preservation (physical, social, and psychological security), self-development (personal growth in abilities, knowledge, and skills), and materialism (financial wellbeing, wealth)”2 to validate the theory.
They described preservation as the physical, social, and psychological security for them and their family. The psychological aspect of this theory is the motivation to protect the social identity of the self or family in the face of a threat. Preservation motivation expresses that when people fear that they no longer have appropriate security to protect their social identity in their home country, they are motivated to move somewhere else. Self-development motivation refers to the stimulation of personal growth, learning new skills, and acquiring new knowledge. The authors described “Self-development motivation to emigrate as the higher-order openness to change value type that emphasizes self-direction, creativity, challenge, and adventure in all aspects of life”(Tartakovsky and Schwartz. 2001). When people are faced with economic hardship, eager to advance their career or learn new skills, or want to obtain a higher level of education, they get motivated to move elsewhere to achieve their goals. Materialism motivation theory of emigration deals with financial wellbeing, wealth, and control over material resources. This motivation stimulates one’s self-desire to enhance the economic and/or job situation. The authors stated that “Materialism motivation expresses the higher-order self-enhancement value type in the context of emigration. This value type emphasizes the pursuit of self-interest through attaining socially approved status, achievement, and control over resources.
People give great importance to more than one of the higher-order values expressed by motivation and may get induced by one of these motivations to emigrate. Additionally, millions of immigrants have arrived in Germany in search of a better life and to escape instability, insecurity, terrorism, poverty, and climate change in other European countries, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. They risked their lives, and many spent their savings to reach the borders in Europe and then made their way to Germany.I have utilized motivational theory to determine the needs that drive people to migrate.
Application of Motivational Theory of Preservation
According to a report by the BBC, more than a million emigrants and refugees have crossed European borders either by sea or by land in the last decade from different parts of the world. Conflict and wars were the main drivers of a huge wave into Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iran, and Ukraine (BBC, 2016).I have collected data from immigrants from Syria and Afghanistan to test the theory.
Yazgan, Utku, and Sirkeci in their article “Syrian Crisis and Migration ”defined conflict as “ a very broad sense which includes latent tensions and disagreements on the one end and goes to armed and violent clashes (e.g., wars) on the other”(Yazgan, Utku, and Sirkeci 2015). Their view is that migration takes place when there are discomforts, difficulties, restrictions, clashes, and, finally, violence and wars in the home country. In addition, when people face a threat or an environment of insecurity, they decide to move elsewhere.
More than 400,000 people have died from the conflict in Syria According to an article in The Washington Post, the Syrian government has launched numerous chemical weapon attacks against its citizens (Loveluck 2019). The security condition remains fragilein Deir ez-Zor region held by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in Syria, and the lack of basic human needs has motivated people to flee. Similarly, the conflict in Afghanistan has cost the lives of more than 32,000 people since 2008 according to the United Nations. Furthermore, 2018 was the deadliest year with 3804 civilians killed in suicide bombings, targeted killings, and other operations. In addition, a weak central government, corrupt police and army, and increased crime rate are responsible for many un-recorded civilian casualties (“Civilian Deaths from Afghan Conflict in 2018 at Highest Recorded Level – UN Report” 2019). The situation in Afghanistan mostly impacts young educated adults, who are unemployed and don’t feel safe in Afghanistan and, thus, are motivated to emigrate abroad.
I have collected data from several interviews with Afghan and Syrian refugees to validate the motivation for leaving their home countries. Of the refugees we spoke to, eight out of 10 fled Syria following an incident that made them fear for their safety. Many described arbitrary arrests by Syrian forces, the death of family or friends and the deteriorating security conditions in their neighborhoods.
•Tareq, a young refugee from Homs, told us he had no trust in the idea that Syria is safe to return to and spoke of his fears about the actions of Syrian military officers.
“I used to work as an undertaker in Syria. My job was to bury the martyrs,” he said.“When I saw what they had done to them, how they were cut up with knives—no way, there is no trust. Even if they secure everything we need, there is no trust,” he added(Yahya 2018).
•Sana and her sisters were forced to live in one room for two weeks, as their home was destroyed around them. She says,“We left Syria one week ago. There were so many explosions…so we had to leave Syria. What do I remember of Syria? I remember two things—our house being bombed and not having any bread. Most of the houses were being hit. We had to stay in one room, all of us. The other rooms were being hit—(…). The bombs were hitting constantly, I was very scared.”
•Yasmine talks of her fear:“I felt so afraid; I knew we could not move from that one room. There were 13 of us in total. We did not leave that room for two weeks. It was always so loud.”All the sisters were gathered at home one day and they witnessed their father’s killing. “My father left the room. I watched as my father was shot outside our home. I started to cry; I was so sad. We were living a normal life. We had enough food, now we depend on others. Everything changed for me that day,” she says., (“Stories of Syrian Refugees” n.d.).
•Farah and Adnan led a comfortable, successful life in Syria. They had a large house overlooking the city, where they lived with their two children, Fathi, 3, and Zeinah, 1. Farah was hoping to return to school to continue her education, which she had put on hold after having her first child, and Adnan, an Arabic teacher, was pursuing a law degree. Their large, tight-knit family—Adnan has 8 sisters and 5 brothers and Farah has a large family as well—all lived nearby.Then, their house was seized by fighters because of its location. Soon after,it was destroyed. They were homeless, and the nearby cities were under attack as well. Before the bombings could start in their city, Farah and Adnan made the choice to leave their home in order to keep their children safe.“My children were born in the city, and my whole family lived there, but we had to flee to Turkey during one of the outbreaks of fighting,” said Farah. “If we hadn’t left when we did, we would have been killed along with so many other people.”
Farah, Adnan, and their children stayed in Turkey for one year before making the short but treacherous journey to Kos, Greece. Farah thought they would die on the boat crossing, and in Greece, hotels mistreated them, and they had to keep moving around. Farah estimates that they spent almost $1,400 on hotel rooms their first week in Kos. However, spending money on hotels is not their only worry. Both their children desperately needed to see a doctor. Save the Children is giving Fathi and Zeinah the emotional and psychical support they need, but their journey is far from over. Farah and Adnan are soon leaving Greece to make their way to Germany, a nearly 2,000 mile trek. Farah craves a place to call home.“I want to believe we can have a secure and peaceful life again,” she says.
The conditions in Syria and Afghanistan and the data collected from the interviews validate motivation theory of preservation, which expresses that when individuals fear that they no longer can protect themselves, their families, and their social identity in their home country, they are motivated to move to find security for their families.
Application of Motivational Theory of Self-development
Germany introduced a new immigration bill in 2001 with attractive economic elements when other European countries were contemplating to further restrict their immigration policies in the face of increased terrorism. After four years of intense negotiation between the different political parties in Germany, a law was passed that allows legal immigration of exceptionally skilled workers and self-employed people. In addition to attractive economic elements, the law would empower responsible officials to deport hate preachers and terror suspects. The law was mainly focused on addressing the shortage of highly skilled labor requested by many employers in Germany. This opportunity attracted hundreds of thousands of people from countries where economic opportunities were scarce and unemployment rates were high.
As many as 1.2 million people immigrated to Germany in 2013,with 755,000 or 62% of the total immigrants coming from the European Union (EU) itself to find better jobs, master their skills, or get higher education. Most of the 62% of immigrants were from Poland, where safety was not an issue. Poland had an unemployment rate of over 14% between 2010 and 2015, and the Polish considered Germany’s new immigration law as an excellent opportunity to improve their economic situation.
Another immigration trend is the immigration of job seekers coming to Germany from the south of Europe. Due to high unemployment, especially amongst younger people, more and more qualified professionals are entering Germany. The number of Greek, Spanish, and Portuguese immigrants rose, with most having at least a college degree. The security situation in both East and South Europe is stable, and there is no evidence that people are leaving due to security issues. Data collected from the European immigrants in Germany shows that the motivation behind their decision was personal growth, knowledge, and higher skills. The motivation of the immigrants from Poland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal validates motivation theory of self-development. The theory states that self-development motivation to emigrate expresses the higher-order openness to change the value type that emphasizes self-direction, creativity, challenge, and adventure.
Motivation Theory of Materialism
Many European countries have created a special visa for those who would invest a significant amount in the country’s economy. Germany’s investor visa program provides incentives to encourage foreign investors to either start up a new business or invest in established businesses. Their reward would be citizenship as well as a passport that would allow them to travel, work, or live anywhere in Europe. Concerning Chinese investors emigrating to Europe, Wong and Primecz wrote, “We argue that these ‘new migrants’ are active entrepreneurs seeking new market opportunities, and many have served local market needs. It explores the development and nature of newly created Chinese enterprises by examining the opportunities arising from ‘structural holes’ in the economy.”Additionally, they drew on the concept of mixed embeddedness as the crucial connection between social, economic, and cultural contexts, from which migrant enterprises emerge and into which they are embedded(Wong and Primecz 2011).
An estimated 200,000 Chinese immigrants live in Germany. While most of them came to Germany with labor visas, a large number of them are business owners who emigrated to Germany to expand their local businesses based in China. “The small but growing crop of newcomers is nothing like the immigrants who worked in restaurants in the 1980s and 1990s. They wear fine leather shoes, banter in German, shuttle between Europe and China, and hold MBAs and accounting and legal qualifications, said Rainer Gehnen, executive director of the German-Chinese Business Association.” Numerous investments have been coming from China to Germany, and they need locally experienced legal, tax and management consultants and advisers. “Many service providers in Germany hire Chinese professionals to facilitate efficient communication with their Chinese business partners” (“Chinese Professionals Make Their Mark in Germany” 2013).The immigration of Chinese investors in Europe, in particular, Germany, validates the motivational theory of materialism, which deals with financial wellbeing, wealth, and control over material resources.
Data from Syrian, Afghans, Polish, and Chinese immigrants in Germany were critical to the investigation of general motivational theories of migration. I have applied three different theoretical motivations—motivational theory of preservation, motivational theory of self-development, and motivational theory of materialism—to the data and have confirmed the validity of all three theories. It means, moving forward, that ever more attention needs to be paid to motivation theory, across many other cases and diverse global regions, as it seems to have that magical intellectual quality of being both flexible and accurate.
Captain Jasmin: Charting a sea change in a man’s world
I never knew anything about life at sea before I started my training. Certainly, where I come from – the Philippines – and also in other countries, being a seafarer is not seen as a job for a woman. In fact, the sea is seen as a man’s world. It’s their space, it’s their history. There is never a ‘herstory.
I decided to go down this path for financial reasons. I knew it wasn’t the norm but I wanted to be able to get a job at the end of my studies. I could have opted to stay in a very safe place but instead I put myself in a difficult situation and pushed myself to the limits. When I was training there were only four women. There was really no-one to guide me so it was trial and error.
When I began working on ships I would encounter negativity. The thought in people’s minds is ‘you can’t do the job’. They say it’s too physical, that women can’t do it, but I’ve seen men who aren’t strong and there are some tasks that men can’t do. But they only have to see your name and the thought is always there, that you can’t do the job. So you have to work ten times harder than the men. Even when you are land-based you find the same attitudes and discrimination.
There have been many times when I have been the only woman on board. One time, I remember, I was working on a ship for a seven-month stretch, the only woman among 20 men. Working in this kind of environment can be stressful psychologically so you have to stay strong, alert and protect yourself. It’s 2019 and I’m still having to share toilets with men but for me these inconveniences are very small things. I don’t actually notice them. What’s more important to me is to work and stay determined to do what I have to do.
Despite these challenges I would encourage women to go into seafaring because it’s a great opportunity for professional growth. Besides, we are squandering 50 per cent of our resources if seafaring is restricted to men. People may think it’s a man’s world but it’s everybody’s world.
I’ve been all around the world – Africa, China, Japan, Korea, Sweden, South America, Thailand – so many places. At the moment I’m working in the North Sea on a ship with a crew of more than 100, laying oil and gas pipelines. I’m second-in-command so I’m on the Bridge, driving the vessel. I’ve really had to work hard to work my way up. They say there’s diversity but there’s still a glass ceiling. Yet we’re getting there.
There’ll always be pressures and problems but the key is to be yourself in difficult situations and stay determined. You just have to have the right attitude and habits and encourage people to embrace difference.
It’s still not the norm that women work at sea but I am hopeful that there is a future for women in seafaring. I have a responsibility to make sure that happens.
Herat, the fire’s bride
The olive eyes of Shaista peep between the bandages covering her burnt body, for she, like so many other Afghan women from the city of Herat, decided to escape her life by way of fire.
Shaista arrived at the hospital burning between wisps of hair and fabric, and her 19-year-old body is now a landscape of lava.
Tears seep between the gauze and the passageways of her blistered skin. Compassion is the closest thing to love that she will experience, and the hands of the man who changed her bandages are amongst the few that didn’t strike her.
She set herself on fire for a crime she didn’t commit, one that doesn’t exist, or one that everyone else appears to see except her. Her crime was being born a woman.
According to Oxfam, 8 out of every 10 Afghan women suffer either physical, sexual or psychological violence.
In 2015, the Independent Afghan Commission for Human Rights registered 5,132 gender crimes and between April and June 2016 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 600, but many go unreported.
The women who go to the police are at risk of being raped before being returned to their families. Those who escape for more than 48 hours face accusations of adultery, the punishment for which is either facial mutilation or death. Passed between relatives, offered to others to pay debts or settle disputes, raped and subjected to acid attacks in the streets; these women lose their mental stability and take their own lives in the most brutal way.
They usually come from lower social groups and as they don’t have access to guns or money to buy barbiturates, they drink rat poison, hang themselves, jump into rivers or set themselves on fire.
Although the families declare a ‘domestic accident’, it is easy to identify a suicide, as the majority are aged between 14-21 years old and are soaked in kerosene, when in fact most people use firewood or gas to do the cooking at home.
85% of Afghan women are unable to read or write and thus out of ignorance believe that they will die quickly. But instead they suffer for days before dying. Many pour boiling oil over themselves or drizzle it over their abdomen in order to raise attention to their plight, but sometimes the flames envelop them.
One of the most influential thinkers and leading Afghan practitioners in the field, Dr. Djawed Sangdel says: “Education is a key. This country needs a thorough horizontalisation of education for all.”
80% of those who arrive in hospital perish because of a lack of means to treat them, and if they do survive, they suffer lifelong consequences, for it is difficult to follow a course of treatment whilst carrying water and looking after numerous children.
Almost 40 years of war brought with it misery, poor health and lack of governance, under which the patriarchal system flourished; a system which made Afghanistan an open-air prison for women, causing them irreparable psychological damage.
The country’s laws tolerate tribal codes and 60% of girls under the age of 15 are forced to marry men double their age, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan.
Studies from the UN Fund for the Development of Women reveal that the majority of widows sell their bodies or turn to begging in order to survive, and 65% of them see suicide as the only solution to their misery.
Herat, once known as the Pearl of Khorasan, is today a ghost town, with a horizon dotted with adobe houses, obsolete war munitions and faces hidden from the world behind the grille of a burka.
After a week in hospital, Shaista’s mother-in-law escaped with her to hide her at home, as her son simply didn’t deserve the shame of a suicidal wife.
Almost a month after the fire, she returned with wounds all over her body and without any feeling in her arms due to large necrotic areas. She did, however, survive – one of life’s cruel jokes.
Now with the same fears as before, scars from the fire on her skin and with only one arm to carry her daughter, Shaista is back in the place that she so wanted to flee.
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