SANTA CRUZ STYLE, September 7, 2003
Bookends: Women of action; women in love
Part of the reason I always enjoyed women’s history was there was so little of it, I had no problem remembering what I learned. Used to be only one or two books on the subject — Betsy Ross, Queen Elizabeth.
Later in life, I noticed there was an entire bookshelf devoted to the subject — Women Basket Weavers, Women Behind Famous Men, etc.
How things change.
Today, women’s history is its own industry, its own university department, as well as a solid part of the economic welfare of bookstores and movie houses far and wide.
Unslaked for so long, we women continue to thirst for information about our own, still mostly invisible, history.
Which is part of the reason that "Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan," the slight biography by MELODY ERMACHILD CHAVIS of a contemporary Afghan civil rights martyr has been received with a tidal wave of affection so out of proportion to its scope.
We’re desperate for stories about strong women acting bravely in a world still controlled by men.
Outside of its place in publishing history, "Meena" also has plenty to recommend it.
It is, after all, about a woman who lived (1957-1987) in a repressive society, fought to be educated, strove to be treated as an equal and organized the women in her community to fight, surreptitiously, the iron fist of pre-Taliban reactionary forces.
The founder of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, Meena hoped to be a lawyer one day.
She liked Jack London, admired Joan of Arc and grew up hearing about Islamic heroines like Malalai, the Afghan woman who fought the British in 1880 and Ashraf, the Iranian freedom fighter who struggled against the Shah.
Intelligent and resourceful, Meena had what it took to be a great leader of her people. Even her disappearance in 1987 did not spell the end of her influence.
In 2002, for example, the first Women’s Day was celebrated in Kabul.
"Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan" is also interesting for the author’s post-note of how she visited Afghanistan and researched Meena’s story.
A Bay area private investigator who helps defend people facing capital punishment, Chavis underscores, with this biography, her role in the world as a peace and social justice activist.
An added bonus for all readers is the heartfelt and lyrical introduction by Alice Walker.
One can only hope that this important story finds its way into the hands of young readers everywhere.
The day after "Meena" is celebrated at the Capitola Book Cafe next week, another fine book will be celebrated at Gateways Books, 1531 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz (Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.).
Books on RAWA