CNN, Nov.19, 2001

Sahar Saba: Women's rights in post-Taliban Afghanistan

Sahar Saba is a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), the oldest women's humanitarian and political organization in Afghanistan.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Sahar Saba, and welcome

SAHAR SABA: Greetings to everyone joining this chat. I'm really happy to be here today with you to talk about the situation in Afghanistan. It's important for us to talk about the future in Afghanistan.

CNN: Is the Taliban retreat from Kabul and other Afghan cities a victory for the women of Afghanistan?

SABA: In some ways, yes, it's a victory. Seeing that there are no Taliban in power, it's really something that everyone was wishing for. So of course, this is a great and positive change in the Afghanistan situation, especially for women. But seeing that other criminal groups like the Northern Alliance will replace them is not good news for Afghan women and people in general. So the situation is confusing for everyone about what will happen. If we have the Northern Alliance in power, then nothing will be changed, especially for women. So we can't deceive ourselves by seeing only few women without burqas or working in TV or radio. It's really something for the people around the world to make them think that things have changed. But things haven't changed; there are still social, psychological, problems. Women are still suffering. It's not the end of tragedy. We still have a long way to go. We need to work hard to get rid of fundamentalism.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How do the rights of women under the Northern Alliance compare with those under the Taliban?

SABA: In fact, let me tell you that there was not a big difference between [the way the] Taliban were treating women and the way Northern Alliance was treating women. When they came into power in 1992, the situation of women was getting worse day by day, and whatever women had before, they lost. The only difference we can see was that the Northern Alliance didn't announce officially restrictions on women. But practically, they were worse, in their ways of raping women, kidnapping women, destroying hospitals, offices, museums, burning books. The security was not good in any case. So women were apparently allowed to go out, but they didn't dare to go out, because they were kidnapped, and in many cases, young women disappeared, and their bodies were found later in front of their house, gang-raped.

So there are years we will never be able to forget. It's not something to trust these groups anymore. They are criminals who must pay for what they've done. They are two sides of one coin, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. The only difference is that one was in power, and the other was trying to be in power. They are against women, against civilization, against democracy. How can we forget that groups in Northern Alliance called democracy an infidel, gateways to hell? So now, when they talk about women's rights or education, or rights to work, it's really just like a joke, insulting those women.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How do the Taliban and/or the Northern Alliance justify treating their women this harshly when the Koran teaches otherwise?

SABA: There are many factors for this treatment of women by the Taliban, or Northern Alliance or any fundamentalist group. Many of these people were raised or trained from childhood in a way to be against women, that women are nothing for them and of no value for them. Many of them have never seen women or talked to them, let alone thought of their freedom. Second, for many of the rulers and many other countries, the rulers use religion with their own interpretation, which is better for them, not for women. They take advantage of many very conservative points, and it gives them this chance. Most importantly, they have the power of the gun. With a weapon, you can justify anything you want to do. It's not a crime for them, but for them, with guns, you cannot expect them to justify what they are doing.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What lengths are the United Nations and the United States willing to go to insure their equal rights?

SABA: The only way is to do something to stop fundamentalism. As I said before, fundamentalism was not only in the form of Taliban. We still face that danger with Northern Alliance and different groups in the alliance. The best way to help Afghan women is to stop fundamentalism in Afghanistan, to get more power, to be more strengthened in Afghanistan. For this, we believe it is time for the intervention of the international community and the UN, to put a peacekeeping force into Afghanistan, and their first task must be to disarm all warring factions in Afghanistan. To promote, to protect, to ensure women's rights, we need a stable government, with a guarantee of peace and freedom, that will give chances to women to go out of their houses. For this, it's not possible with weapons, we need peace, security, women's rights and issues [which we can achieve] only if we don't have people like the Northern Alliance in power.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is there a role model amongst other Muslim nations that Afghanistan should follow in this movement for women?

SABA: The situation of women in Afghanistan or treatment of women in Afghanistan cannot be found in any other Islamic country, even Iran or Saudi Arabia. We believe that other women are suffering, but it's not really comparable to what the women of Afghanistan have experienced. They want to see peace, security, and freedom. It can happen in any Islamic or non-Islamic country. It's needed for human beings. We can find the situation of women even in Pakistan is very much different from our women, even in many other Islamic countries, [in] Africa and all these. We really are outside of things. We don't want war, poverty, fundamentalism, whether in an Islamic country or non-Islamic country.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: It has been suggested that the former monarch head the new government. What are your thoughts regarding that?

SABA: From the beginning, we have supported the former king, and we also have made it very clear why, and it was only the comparison between the fundamentalist groups and him. Under him, when he was ruling Afghanistan, the situation was really different especially for women. For many people it was like a paradise. After the Taliban and the fundamentalist groups came in 1992, it was like a hell. That was why we supported him. Also, he can play a role as a symbol for Afghan women and men who are in favor of him. So he can play an important role, and must. We support the processes that will bring him into Afghanistan.

CNN: Have women ever had rights in Afghanistan?

SABA: Let me tell you that the situation of women in Afghanistan, for centuries, it was not something to be happy about. But in the last 50 years, it was going to change. For example, under the king, and after him, under President Daoud, the situation of women was better. If you ask many Afghan women what was the best time in their life, they will say definitely the time of the former king. What was different, was that change was happening, change for better. Even in the villages, the mentality toward women was going to change. After the fundamentalists came, the wheels turned back: another tragic aspect of our situation, of our suffering. Even if we had those rights, we lost them, and under fundamentalists, we are not confident as human beings.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today.

SABA: You are welcome. Thank you.

Sahar Saba joined the chat room via telephone from Islamabad and provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Monday, November 19, 2001 at 12:30 p.m. EST.


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