Retriever Weekly, September 16, 2003
Behind the Scenes
UMBC’s Anne Brodsky Tells the Story of Afghan Women
By Charles Rose
Retriever Weekly Guest Writer
In the two years since the horrific attacks of Sept. 11 and the ensuing American invasion of Afghanistan, the world’s attention has shifted away from the plight of the Afghan people, who have been ravaged by decades of war. But even before Sept. 11, Anne Brodsky, an associate professor of psychology and affiliate professor of women’s studies at UMBC, was already risking her life to tell the story of Afghan women under the oppression of the Taliban and other fundamentalist Islamic factions and she continues that fight today.
Brodsky’s research background studying the resilience of women and the role of communities in resisting societal risks such as violence, poverty and racism led to her current work with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
RAWA is a humanitarian and political women’s organization that has operated clandestinely in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past 26 years. Brodsky has been working with the group for over three years to help raise awareness of the plight of women who still risk their lives when they stand up for basic freedoms like going to school, having a job, wearing modern clothes, and being able to leave the house unescorted by a male.
As part of these efforts, Brodsky has traveled to underground girls’ schools, orphanages and refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She has risked her life ? both from the dangers facing a Western woman in areas controlled by fundamentalist groups, and from the ongoing fighting and unexploded landmines and ordnance that litter the countryside.
Recent news items have underscored the relevance of Brodsky’s work: a report released this summer by Human Rights Watch detailed how women are still being raped and attacked by Afghan warlords outside of Kabul and a Newsweek story noted the post Sept. 11 rise in domestic violence in American Muslim families.
Even worse is the apparent resurgence of the Taliban, who have launched several recent attacks on Afghan border police and girls’ schools from just across the Pakistan border, a development that doesn’t surprise Brodsky.
"While schools for girls have reopened, only about 32 percent of the students who returned were girls," she says. "Girls’ schools have been fire bombed and threatened; and forced marriages, imprisonment of girls and women for attempting to escape abusive marriages, forced medical chastity tests and other extreme forms of oppression are ongoing, thus RAWA’s activities and message are still urgently needed."
Since Sept. 11, Brodsky has continued her research through multiple trips to the region and by helping to bring members of RAWA to the United States and UMBC to tell their stories. Earlier this year, Brodsky published a book about RAWA and her experiences with the group, With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (Routledge).
Publisher’s Weekly described With All Our Strength as "Groundbreaking...The first writer with in-depth access to RAWA, Brodsky writes a passionate narrative...[S]tands out as a lone and important study of a remarkable organization." Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban, calls it "A powerful story."
Brodsky will never forget her five months in the field with the brave women of RAWA. "I gained a much deeper understanding and appreciation for their struggle, and was able to record the in-depth stories of real people’s lives under so many years of oppression, war and trauma," she says. "But more than being victims, RAWA has empowered women, children and men to use education as a tool to fight for democracy, freedom, human rights and peace."
According to Brodsky, the fight for democracy and human rights in Afghanistan is far from over. "RAWA remains a threatened group for their outspoken opposition to the oppression of women and all democratically minded people that continue under the current, warlord dominated government," she says. "They fervently hope that the rest of the world will continue to support them and will not, once again, turn their backs on the long suffering people of Afghanistan."
Brodsky’s work on behalf of women at UMBC and beyond was recognized with the 2003 award from the President’s Commission for Women, one of several presented at UMBC’s 37th Anniversary Opening.
Article originally published in Insights Weekly.
Books on RAWA