Collegian, March 20, 2003
Afghan women's group informs students of need for rights
By Meredith Setzman
Collegian Staff Writer
An Afghan peace advocator and an American author encouraged education, political action and the continued need for women's basic rights in Afghanistan.
"There is an image of a liberated Afghan but reality is different and the reality is kept even more silent because of the war in Iraq," said Tahmeena Faryal, of Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan(RAWA).
Faryal, who is a Pakistan-based member of the group, presented an informational lecture last night sponsored by the Geography and Women's Studies Departments.
She said the main purpose of RAWA is to provide humanitarian and political actions to advance women's rights in Afghanistan.
Politically, RAWA holds demonstrations and political conferences, documents abuse, and produces a magazine as well as a Web site (www.rawa.org).
"We have educated probably millions of people who visited our Web site about the situation in Afghanistan," Faryal said.
"RAWA from the beginning found education as the key to change the mentality of society, to really see a change in the treatment of women," Faryal said.
Anne E. Brodsky spoke alongside Faryal. She is the author of a book on RAWA entitled With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.
"The past year and a half has presented us with challenges and fears we never thought possible," said Brodsky, an assistant professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The difference for the women of Afghanistan, is that they have been living with these fears for 25 years, she said.
Faryal, who gained her education through schools set up by RAWA, said Afghanistan did not see much change after September 11th, and they are no better off then when they were under Taliban ruling.
"It's still a country of rubble," she said.
The fundamentalists that replaced the Taliban regime, have kept up the forced prostitution and rape of women, she said.
"That smashed the dream of our people for a better Afghanistan, a democratic Afghan," Faryal said.
Jennifer Fluri (graduate-geography and women's studies) invited the speakers when she researched Afghanistan for her Ph.D. She now attends conferences and fundraisers for RAWA, and raises awareness in her classes.
"Because this is an educated institution, it's important to bring people from other countries, as opposed to researchers, to get a first-person account," Fluri said.
"There is potential to have incredible impact because everyone here can go and talk to their relatives and loved ones about it," she said.
RAWA members give up education and family life in order to keep the group alive, Brodsky said.
There are four main themes RAWA focuses on: aid empowerment, community, role models and resilience. The empowerment is emphasized because women can see that members of RAWA are insiders from Pakistan and Afghanistan, women like them as opposed to others coming to help them, Brodsky said.
The role of community is shown through the crafts the women make and the priority placed on literacy programs. "It's not just about reading and writing, it about changing the conceptualization of their potential," Brodsky said.
Community is also demonstrated through the employment of female doctors and teachers that work at RAWA refugee camps. "When kids go to a school run by RAWA, what they see is women teachers," said Brodsky, who spent several months visiting the camps.
It teaches the children that women are just as smart as men are and that they can do the same things as members of the opposite sex, she said.