The Guardian (UK), March 7, 2002
Reprinted: The Sydney Morning Herald, March 8, 2002

Burqa still a symbol of fear

By Mariam Rawi in Afghanistan

On November 19, the New York Times ran an article entitled "Behind the Burka", focusing on a 56-year-old woman from Afghanistan who had no schooling, eight children and a dead husband. The piece talked about her "liberation" from the Taliban, and concluded: "Now, at least, she is free to beg."

This is the "liberation" that has reached the women of Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban government. Even in Kabul, where 4000 foreign troops are deployed, women have seen little improvement in their rights since the advent of the interim government.

The West may see the Northern Alliance as an improvement on the Taliban, but Afghan women do not see it that way. In 1992, after members of the Alliance entered Kabul and other cities, it embarked on a spree of murder, rape, plunder and torture, attacking men and women from seven to 70. They killed more than 50,000 people in Kabul alone between 1992 and 1996.

We at RAWA - the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan - believe they have not changed. We are receiving numerous reports of rape, looting and kidnapping from across the country. Those who have proclaimed women's liberation have spoken far too soon.

Widespread fear of the Alliance means few women have discarded their burqas. Hundreds of thousands of school-age girls are unable to attend lessons due to destitution, insecurity, and the fallout of a decade of fundamentalist oppression. We are troubled by the reluctance of the world community to deploy an effective peacekeeping force in Afghanistan which would enable the people to elect a government in an atmosphere free from fundamentalist guns.

If there is no peace and a stable legitimate government, women will never feel free.

The West must realise that Afghans regard the Alliance as much more vile than the Taliban. History must not be repeated. The right to burn a burqa or go to school is not something to be proud of. Afghan girls and women know that these are still a long way from the rights that women of other countries have. They need to fight against the misogynistic and inhuman treatment of women, usually justified in the name of "tradition" or "religion".

Our mothers' lives ended in dark, desperate and painful conditions. We should have enough confidence to change the conditions our mothers lived through - if not for this generation, then at least for the one to come.

Mariam Rawi, a member of RAWA, is writing under a pseudonym.


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