Indiana Daily Student, February 14, 2002

Feel free to post this on the "RAWA In The Media" page. It is an article I wrote for the Indiana University school newspaper about a lecture by the Afghan Women's Mission, which raises funds for RAWA in the U.S. Much of the lecture focused on RAWA and its objectives in Afghanistan, as well as the effects of the war on the Afghan population. RAWA is such an important organization to have and its members are such inspirational people. I pray for peace in Afghanistan and I also pray that the women there can finally live their lives without hardship. -- Josh Hamerman

Lecture discusses Afghani women

by Josh Hamerman

Starvation is commonplace in Afghanistan, but hunger is not the only threat to the lives of its people. Afghans are put in danger every day due to the presence of 10 million landmines installed between 1979 and 1989, when Soviets occupied the country.

Neesha Mirchandani, manager of operations for the Afghan Women's Mission, an organization founded in 2000 to raise funds for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, discussed this and more in a lecture entitled "RAWA: Afghan Women Boldly Speak Out." She spoke to a full audience 7 p.m. Tuesday in School of Law room 121.

In addition to landmines, Afghanistan's population must also avoid 4,949 "cluster bomblets" (explosives painted the same color as food baskets) that were dropped by the United States. So far, 4,000 Afghans have died as result of American and British bombs, and hundreds of Afghan children will die before they reach five years of age.

Mirchandani's presentation dealt with the history of the struggle for women's rights in Afghanistan and the effects that the recent American and British bombing campaigns have had on the Afghan population.

RAWA was founded in 1977 by Meena Kishwarkamel, a 20-year-old student, to fight for the protection of women's rights in the country. She heightened her efforts after the 1979 Soviet invasion, but her life was cut short when she was assassinated by KHAD, the Afghan sect of the KGB, Feb. 4, 1987.

"They thought that if they killed Meena, RAWA would die off, but instead, RAWA grew stronger," Mirchandani said.

She added that before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the world was not concerned with the plight of the Afghan population, especially its female members.

"Before Sept. 11, Afghanistan was a forgotten tragedy," she said. "It's ironic that it took a tragedy like Sept. 11 to wake up the world."

Mirchandani explained that before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, 40 percent of the country's doctors and 70 percent of its teachers were women. Now, according to Physicians for Human Rights, nearly 100 percent of Afghan women suffer from some type of mental illness or depression due to events brought on by almost 23 years of war.

She said that in addition to acts of cruelty committed by the Taliban, the Afghan population, especially women, were also subjected to human rights violations by the Northern Alliance, which ruled the country from 1992 until 1996 as the United Front.

"Under the Northern Alliance, there was chaos," she said. "That's why the Taliban were heralded when they came to power, but in fact, they were worse."

As a result, she said RAWA hopes the current interim government, which includes Northern Alliance generals and warlords, will not become permanent.

"Members of the Northern Alliance were rewarded by the U.S. for helping its war on terrorism," she said. "They know how to fight, but they don't know how to run a country that has been through 23 years of war. They started the oppression of women in Afghanistan, so when you think of the Taliban, also think of the Northern Alliance."

She tried to break down stereotypes of Afghan men by explaining that many members of the Taliban and Northern Alliance came to Afghanistan from Pakistan and other nations.

"Afghanistan is a peaceful country, and it was not the Afghan men who were doing this," she said. "Many Afghan men were recruited at gunpoint."

Mirchandani also revealed that RAWA is very concerned with the "looting, raping and mayhem" that are presently occurring in Afghanistan.

"Looting, raping and mayhem will continue if a government that is not elected stays in power," she said.

She said RAWA is very pleased with the schools it has established in the region, as well as the reopening of Malalai Hospital, which caters to Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Mirchandani culminated her presentation by asking the audience, "Why should you care? Imagine this was you."

A reception followed at the home of School of Law Lecturer Cathy Crosson, who hosted Mirchandani during her stay in Bloomington.

"The indiscriminate attack on Afghanistan by the U.S. has done nothing to help the people's situation there, especially the women's situation," Crosson said.

Senior Rebecca Riall, one of the event's coordinators, said the struggle for women's rights in Afghanistan is far from over.

"A lot of people have an idea from the media that everything is better because of the war, but women in Afghanistan are in just as much danger now than they ever were," she said.

The presentation was sponsored mainly by the Monroe County Green Party, IU College Libertarians, Department of English, Department of Communication and Culture, Department of American Studies and Bloomington V-Day.


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