Gazet Van Antwerpen (Belgium), May 18, 2003
Translated from Dutch into English

Honorary PhD with veil
Afghan woman is honoured by Antwerp University but fears reprisals

Antwerp- RAWA, the Afghan movement for women’s emancipation, received an honorary PhD last Friday from the University of Antwerp (UA) for general merits. Gaati Partow, representative of RAWA, accepted the honorary title wearing a veil. She fears reprisals in her native country. “The Taliban were driven out, the fundamentalism wasn’t”.

It was the last time the UA gave out honorary titles as a confederacy. For in September the merger will finally be a fact. Four prominent academics were celebrated: Jean-Claude Javillier (France. Labour Legislation), Donald Knuth (US, Computer Science), Willem Levelt (The Netherlands, Psycholinguistics) and Paul Vanhoutte (Belgium, Pharmaceutical Science).

Although the fifth laureate does not have an academic background, she got a standing ovation from her colleagues and the entire auditorium that lasted minutes. The Afghan Gaati Partow accepted the honorary PhD on behalf of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). That organisation has been struggling for more rights for women for 26 years by, amongst other things, establishing schools and hospitals for girls. The consecutive Afghan regimes, with the Taliban as a tragic pinnacle, mercilessly hunted down the non-violent activists, and tortured and killed them.


Despite the wiping out of the Taliban, working for RAWA is still very dangerous. Partow never uses her real name and wore a veil during the ceremony at the UA. “If photo’s or television images of Gaati’s face reach her homeland she could be in a lot of trouble”, explains UA professor Diana Phillips, who also got to nominate Partow for the honorary PhD. In the closing speech on behalf of the laureates Partow stressed that the situation in Afghanistan remains very bad. “The Taliban are gone, but fundamentalism is not. The Northern Alliance, installed by the United States, also commit cruelties to women, but those barely get reported on by the media. Little positive changes have happened for Afghan women”, says Partow. “The opiumproduction has fully recovered, journalists are pressured into not writing critical articles. It is hurtful that a bandit like General Massoud (Leader of the Northern Alliance who was killed on the eve of the september 11 attacks, ed.) is nominated for the Nobel prize for Peace”.

For RAWA the UA honorary PhD is an important windfall. The association has already won many prizes but this is the first to come from an academic field. Gaati Partow also commended the attitude of the Belgian Government during the last war on Iraq. “Belgium was obviously a part of the anti-war front. Hopefully it will also establish itself on the antifundamentalist front”.

RAWA receives PhD

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