Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Women continue fight against Taliban

Compere: Tony Jones Reporter: Tony Jones

The movement of Afghan women attempting to resist fundamentalism is surprisingly well-organised. It's been spearheaded since the late 1970s by a group called RAWA - the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan. Like many other Afghan resistance movements, RAWA is based in Pakistan.

TONY JONES: The movement of Afghan women attempting to resist fundamentalism is surprisingly well-organised. It's been spearheaded since the late 1970s by a group called RAWA - the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan. Like many other Afghan resistance movements, RAWA is based in Pakistan.

It's members are educated in secret - they have to be to escape persecution. A short time ago I spoke to one of their spokeswomen, Sahar Sabar, who's living in exile in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

TONY JONES: Sahar Sabar, I should ask you first of all, about the threats to your life that make it necessary for you to cover your face while doing this interview?

SAHAR SABAR, AFGHANI FEMINIST ACTIVIST: Yes, the threats has been always with us since we have started working with Rawa, working for women's right, working for democracy in Afghanistan means giving sacrifices and it's in the face of giving our lives.

So, of course we always under threat. We always under danger. Even in Pakistan, we cannot hope for having open activities.

TONY JONES: I should point out here that the founder of your organisation, Rawa, was actually murdered in the 1980s, that's true, isn't it?

SAHAR SABAR: In 1987 actually. She was murdered in Pakistan by the KGB agents with the help of one of the Islamic parties. Our demonstrations was also attacked here.

Our members were arrested by Pakistani police, our demonstrations were disturbed and our functions - all these. So everyday our life is in danger. In Afghanistan, of course, it's clear that how risky it is to work for women's rights or for democracy or against fundamentalists.

But even in Pakistan, it's really too difficult to work for - in a situation that we do.

TONY JONES: Sahar, how does it make you feel that you have to cover your face? It's one of the very things you're fighting to stop happening?

SAHAR SABAR: Yes, in fact, I personally hate wearing Burqa, wearing the scarf but I have to and I really don't feel comfortable with it. Right now you see how much problems I have with this, but to avoid the security risks to some extent we must be very much careful, and if by not showing our faces, I think it's better to hide our identities.

TONY JONES: Sahar, you're watching the sudden collapse of the Taliban, as we all are, and their retreat from Kabul. In the capital, women actually broadcast the news of the Taliban's retreat from Kabul. What's been going through your mind as you've been watching this happening?

SAHAR SABAR: The retreat of Taliban of course is good news. It's very positive development in the political situation in Afghanistan. But unfortunately I must say that they are replaced with another band of fundamentalists with looters, that they have a very dark and bad history, human rights violations in Afghanistan.

So, it's really difficult for us to be happy, to just simply deceive ourselves by saying that now newscaster or women newscaster, or people can listen to music or women will not wear Burqa.

These are the basic rights but we are sure that achieving more rights and security in peace and freedom under fundamentalism - it's not possible. And for us and our people, Northern Alliance is one of the fundamentalist groups in Afghanistan.

TONY JONES: I want to ask you specifically about the Northern Alliance in a short time, if I can. But first of all, how profound psychologically was the impact of the Taliban rule on women in Afghanistan?

SAHAR SABAR: The psychological impact on women was not only with the Taliban but with the fundamentalists in 1992.

Of course with Taliban in '96, it has reached its peak and the more than 95 per cent of women are with very serious psychological problems and many of them because of economy, because of social, because of cultural security problems, and also looking to the future, that many of the mothers, many of the parents - they are so much worried that these groups, the Taliban, have not only destroyed our past, our present but also our future.

It makes many of the women to be in depression, in severe depression, and causing them more psychological problems.

TONY JONES: How hard do you think it's going to be for women to overcome that depression and return to some kind of normality?

SAHAR SABAR: I believe it will take years and years, because it's not easy really after more than 20 years of war, of destruction, living under fundamentalists, living with atrocities, with crimes that are unprecedented, not only in our history but even in the history of the world.

We all say we may rebuild buildings and start reconstruction of the country, but it will take years and years and it will be very difficult to rebuild the minds and mentality of the people, especially the women in Afghanistan and especially from psychological point of view.

So it's not really an easy task and easy work.

TONY JONES: You clearly don't have much trust in the Northern Alliance and its collection of fundamentalist tribal leaders. How did they treat women when they were last in power in Kabul?

SAHAR SABAR: When they come into Kabul in 1992, the situation of women gotten worse, and the cases of kidnapping, gang raping them, looting their houses, destroying, killing their husbands, their family members was a daily routine, and that's why the case of committing suicide among young girls was very high.

Many women, they couldn't feel to be secure in their own country and that was the reason that many have left Afghanistan, and even today when they have heard about the Northern Alliance's coming and capturing the cities, they are leaving Afghanistan.

So, in many ways they were worse than the Taliban and in other ways, the Taliban were worse than them, and that's why we believe they were as bad as each other.

Both sides have the same mentality, the same ideology, and we never can forget the Northern Alliance were the first who called democracy its 'infidel', who called the doors of schools "gateways to hell", who destroyed our schools, our universities, our museums, roads, hospitals, everything -- so having this person in mind, we cannot trust them anymore and they cannot really blame the rights that we want to have for women in Afghanistan.

TONY JONES: Sahar, what must happen now in Afghanistan for you to have any confidence that things will really get better?

SAHAR SABAR: In this situation, we strongly ask the UN and the world community to make intervention in Afghanistan, especially to send their peacekeeping force to Afghanistan, so the groups and Northern Alliance would not have this chance to take advantage of this political vacuum in the country, and this peacekeeping force of the UN must disarm first of all all the warring factions in Afghanistan.

Then pave the way for the former king of Afghanistan, to come in and to make transitional set-up in Afghanistan.

TONY JONES: Why do you trust in the return of the king?

Many people think that he's been out of the country for way too long to do anything, and in the end, he went wants to set up a lawyered jurga, which is essentially a meeting of the council of tribes which does exclude women, doesn't it, to resolve who is going to rule the country?

SAHAR SABAR: Preferring the former king to these jihad is, I think, now very much clear, because when he was in power, Afghanistan was completely a different country, and for the majority of people, his time was like a paradise, and today's Afghanistan after fundamentalist, after Taliban, was like a hell.

At least the past, that the people have lived under him, it was very much different than that make people, to trust him.

And of course, he cannot be the desired person, the desired Government, but will pave the way for a better, for a real democratic Government, where women have full rights and that's why the council you mention and all the peace process, because they will not any word about women's participation and we strongly have asked that without women's participation, without talking about democracy in any kind of peace solution, it will be impossible to change the situation in Afghanistan.

Or to think about women's rights or human rights in Afghanistan.

TONY JONES: Sahar, I know that you were born in Jalalabad, where there's recently been heavy fighting, and you haven't been there since you were a small child because of being forced out of the country. Do you have any hope, right now, that you may be able to go back to your home?

SAHAR SABAR: I do hope, but it seems very difficult, because since childhood, what I remember is all war and it is all destruction and sometimes it really seems difficult whether I will be able to go back to my country, a country with peace, with security, with freedom - a country free from any kind of fundamentalists - but I do hope and I am struggling for that, so if I see that in my life or not, but that day will come, definitely, yes.

TONY JONES: Sahar Sabar, we'll have to finish the interview there. I'd like to, if we can, to stay in touch with you as things unfold and perhaps one day, you may feel comfortable enough to reveal your face but thank you for joining us on Lateline, tonight.

SAHAR SABAR: Yeah, sure, thank you.


Lateline Audio

[Home] [RAWA in Media]