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Portsmouth Herald, May 9, 2000
PHS student acting globally
- By Karen Dandurant, Portsmouth Herald Staff Writer
PORTSMOUTH - When Lydia Brackett, a sophomore at Portsmouth High School attended a Feminist Exposition in Baltimore with members of the Young Women's Leadership Program, she learned something so horrifying, that she decided she had to try and help.
Portsmouth High School students listen to a representative from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan speak about the brutal treatment of women and children in her home country.
Photo by Ryan Mercer
"Today women are being held prisoners in their own home," said Lydia "They are losing their identity by being forced to wear burqas. They are ghostly images of their true selves. The women are being denied their basic human rights, and dignity, rights for an education, medical treatment and employment."
Lydia was talking about the women, and the female children in Afghanistan, suppressed by the fundamentalist Taliban government. In efforts to help, Lydia is asking students to sign a petition asking the United Nations and the United States to help stop the brutal actions of the government.
The presentation only took about a half hour, but it was very effective. Students were flocking to sign the petition during and after the program.
Two women, Sajeda and Sahar came to PHS at Lydia's request, to tell the students what life was like for them. Even now, the women fear for their lives, fear what would happen if word got back to Afghanistan about what they are doing. They did not allow their picture to be taken in a way that would show their faces.
Both women are members of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), an organization dedicated to educating the world about what is transpiring in their country, and to help the women who remain there. Anyone interested in learning more, or in signing the petition can access the RAWA Web site at www.rawa.org.
Both came to this country in March after living in a Pakistan refugee camp. Many women find the oppressive camps preferable to the atrocities being inflicted on them in their own countries.
The human rights violations may be an exceptional insult to the women of Afghanistan because it was not always that way. Prior to the Taliban, women comprised more than 40 percent of the country's doctors and half of the teachers. So, to have their liberty stolen from them this way is intolerable, said Sajeda.
Sajeda gave a history of how her country got there. Students looked shocked when she told them that our country, through the CIA were among the responsible parties.
"The United States wanted to see the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, so supplied weapons and funding to overthrow the government. The Taliban appeared on the scene and once in control, took away all rights of women.
"Women cannot be seen by a male doctor," said Sajeda. "They cannot be operated on by a team that has a male doctor in it. There are no more women's sports, no singers. Our testimony is worth half that of a man's. We cannot show our faces in public, or wear any makeup. We cannot wear shoes that make sounds in public, nor are we allowed to laugh loudly. Our homes have the windows painted over, so no one can look inside. We can be beaten if our ankles show under thew barqas. We are not allowed to work."
PHS girls, many dressed in tank tops and shorts because of the hot weather, squirmed in their seats. They looked at each other in horror as Sajeda's stories got worse. She spoke of rapes and murders. She told the story of a gang rape of a 4-year-old girl, who was picked up by fundamentalists and later dropped off in her neighborhood.
The intake of breath from a student was the only sound in the room.
Sahar told the girls about RAWA, and the work they were trying to do.
"Women were not created to be a good wife, to be a slave, or a sex toy," said Sahar. "We need the UN and the US to get involved, to impose sanctions not only on Afghanistan, but on the countries who support theses atrocities. The most brutal war criminal must be stopped."
"Dear friends, come to our aid," implored Sahar. "Do not allow the Taliban to take away our pride, to silence out women."
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