Kvinnor mot fundamentalism (Stockholm)
RAWA activists in Pakistan criticise the role of media
BY RANA RIZVI
Arise Oh Women!
Take up your flags
As a flood of wrath and hatred
We must go to war
Breaking the chains of slavery
Kindle your shining struggle
Do not delay
Call on the land of blood
In this era
Arise Oh women as a flood
Against the enemies
The flag of our freedom
With democracy as its emblem
Is shining like a burning sun In this burnt land
Let us, Oh sister and mother Arise
To heal the injured heart of the motherland
And uproot the enemy.
Hurry, You must know who the enemy is.
If there is conscience and honor
It is unworthy to live in silence.
Nobody comes to help us
Unless we all arise.
The sapling of Women's struggle
Will surely be watered.
In the name of Afghan dignity
Arise Oh women
As a rock of faith
Meena – who was assassinated by KHAD agents (Afghanistan branch of KGB) and their fundamentalist accomplices on February 4, 1987 in Quetta - a city of Pakistan, fought a tough battle against fundamental forces. She was the sole founder of RAWA (Afghan Revolutionary Women Association) - the first feminist anti-fundamentalist organisation which was established in 1977. The first freedom-loving woman started her struggle against fundamentalism in such a situation which even "big" non-fundamentalist parties were dreadfully fearing Gulbuddin's terrorism.
This reality itself treats these politicians with utmost contempt who stupidly deny the determination and courage of the women. Meena thought that an Afghanistan without democracy and securing the women's rights was never a free Afghanistan. Her blood has crimsoned not only the banner of national struggle but also the banner of movement for democracy and social justice. To fight for the freedom and prosperity of Afghan people became such a sacred ideal to Meena that she left the university to devote her as a professional struggler to organise the womenfolk.
She was of the opinion that our women are like sleeping lions who when awaked and move, would play a tremendous role in any Afghan social revolution. But, in her view the women without their own organisation will have nothing. Meena knew deeply and scientifically about the treacherous nature of Parcham and Khalq parties even before invasion of Russia into Afghanistan. After the occupation, Meena placed independence struggle at the top of RAWA's action programme. To give her wholly to political work, she had deprived her from visiting her family and dear ones. In 1981, she published "Payam-e-Zan" (Women's Message) from Kabul.
– The emergence of Meena in the history of our women's struggle has been rightly recognised as a turning point. Before her, the appearance of all the women who by shedding their blood, left the sign of the woman in the politics, were mostly coincided with foreign activities had a nationalistic colour only. But for Meena national freedom without social freedom and domination of democracy was absolutely worthless, says Shikeba Mahmood, an activist of RAWA in an exclusive interview with "Kvinnor mot fundamentalism".
Shikeba says: "Women lead unbearable life under the shadow of Taliban; their Islamic Emirate has interpreted the Islamic law to repress women in any way. They impose restrictions on women that are not merely harsh but inhuman. Afghan women describe themselves as the "living death" in the hell of this world." In her opinion there never has been any reliable demographic statistics on Afghanistan for the past two decades. Of the estimated 16 million Afghans at the end of the 70s, over two million have been killed in the war of resistance against Soviet occupiers and later on in the civil war unleashed by fundamentalist groupings enjoying the support of foreign powers. Another one and half million have been maimed by the war fallout, while nearly five million have been forced into refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan. The majority of the population left inside the country have been internally displaced as a result of the unending war of the past two decades and in particular of the fundamentalist in-fighting of the past eight years. The country slid into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists in 1992. She is of the views that Islamic fundamentalism in essence looks upon women as sub-humans, fit only for household slavery and as a means of procreation. Such an outrageous view has incredibly been elevated to the status of official policy with the coming to power of the ignorant Taliban who are still in control of 90 per cent of Afghanistan including Kabul. Not only the Jehadis and Taliban but also all Islamists (advocates of an Islamic political system) target women's rights as a first priority, citing mediaeval Sharia (Islamic law) as their authority.
In 1992, women's right to full participation in social, economic, cultural and political life of the country was drastically curtailed and later on summarily denied them by the Taliban. Under the latter (who are the predominant political power in Afghanistan today), women are totally deprived of the right to education, to work, to travel, to health (no woman can see a male doctor, family planning is outlawed, women cannot be operated upon by a surgical team containing a male member), of the right to legal recourse (a woman's testimony is worth half a man's testimony; a woman cannot petition the court directly ö this has to be done through a prescribed male member of her immediate family) and of the right to being human (they cannot wear bright coloured clothing, wear make up, wear shoes with heels that click [least the clicking sound of their feet corrupt males], they can only appear outside their houses clad head to foot in shapeless bags called "burqas", they do not have the right to raise their voices when talking in public, they cannot laugh loud as it lures males into corruption, etc.) This incredible list could be carried on and on but does not in itself constitute the whole of the tragedy which has engulfed the better half of Afghan society. Women are looked upon as war booty, their bodies are another battleground for belligerent parties. Atrocities in Bosnia pale when compared to atrocities in Afghanistan, but unfortunately for reasons which it may not be appropriate to go into in this context, the world community neither hears nor cares about what goes on in Afghanistan. Beating up of women for "disciplinary" reasons on the slightest pretext is a routine phenomenon in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Through such public beatings which more often the Taliban have cowed the civilian population into submission. With the fundamentalists' war mentality, and fanned by ethnic hatred and religious bigotry, all areas that come under their control are regarded as occupied land and the inhabitants are treated accordingly.
Sexual crimes against women, gang raping, lust murders, abductions of young females, blackmail of families with eligible daughters, etc. were commonplace during the rule of the pre-Taliban fundamentalists. The Taliban initially made a show of piety and abhorring sexual crimes against women, but recently reports of their depravity are growing with each passing day. In this, like other atrocities, they have surpassed their fundamentalist brethren.
"There are hundreds of prostitutes roaming the streets of Kabul and their numbers are rising every day," asserts Zarghuna Hashemi, a Kabul-based spokeswoman of the RAWA. "They are not the regular professionals we had in Kabul before or during the war. These women are a product of the economic turmoil of the last three years." The economic turmoil in Afghanistan has indeed been severe. Over the last three years, the price of wheat flour has risen by around 450 per cent. The ban on working women further complicates the scenario for households headed by women. Pushed into a corner, most such women first came out in droves to beg. Now, many of them are turning to prostitution as a more convenient source of income. For Diva (an Afghani girl) and others like her, such an invitation can translate into a million Afghanis in one night, which, as far as they are concerned, can buy 100 nanns (loafs). The more wretched of Kabul's prostitutes live in brothels, where they have to share their income with the madam and the resident pimp. RAWA claims that there are some 25 to 30 brothels operating in Kabul.
The wisdom of the Taliban's so-called Islamic policies is being debated all over the world. While concerned members of the international community continue to express their outrage at the state of affairs, the predicament of the women living in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan goes from bad to worse. Taliban rhetoric may claim that the ban on working women has been imposed to protect them from the "ignominy" of dealing with men and braving the world on their own. But it is these very repressive policies that are forcing increasing numbers of Afghani women to resort to the beasts of professions in the desperate struggle to survive.
Shikeba Mahmood states about the Afghani refuges women in Pakistan: "When our people especially women migrate to Pakistan, it really means out of the fire, into the mire. Usually they are living in camps in Pakistan. Health and education facilities are lacking and water and food are not hygienic. Women in refugee camps find themselves as prisoners, they have to work hard to make the both end meet. Specially the life of the newly refugee people is really horrible. Only in Peshawar (a city of Pakistan) you can find thousands of Afghan women and children beggars in the streets. Among them are even some educated women who are being forced in a way to beg. Prostitution has been prevailed in some cities of Pakistan. Most refugee camps don't have any proper schools for children, and if present are of low standards. Notwithstanding, women in refugee camps are not in a constant fear of bombing, abducting, raping, beating etc. Therefore they prefer the camps from going to Afghanistan."
She expressed her love to her homeland that not I but 99 per cent of refugees are willing to go back to Afghanistan when the situation get improved there politically and economically. Shikeba informs about the commencement of RAWA, that it is established as an independent political, social and feminist organisation of Afghan women fighting for women's rights and human rights. Before the Russian invasion, RAWA's aims were confined to agitation for women's rights and democracy but after the occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet forces in 1979, RAWA became directly involved in the war of resistance. Due to the suffocating socio-political situation prevailing in Afghanistan, in 1982, RAWA shifted most of its activities to Pakistan where it established schools for Afghan refugee boys and girls together with a hospital for refugee women and children in Quetta. RAWA's struggles are aimed against fundamentalism of all shades and colours and for the establishment of a social order based on democratic values, secularism, freedom and women's right. In pursuance of these aims, RAWA is active both inside Afghanistan and in Pakistan and runs many humanitarian projects for Afghan women and children. She says: "RAWA is fighting against Taliban and their Jehadi brothers such as Ahmad Shah Masoud, Rabbani, Sayyaf, Gulbuddin, Khalili and other so-called Afghan leaders who are the responsible for the gross violations of human rights in our trampled land. RAWA's doctrine asserts that in view of the great pain and suffering of our devastated people, freedom-loving organisations and individuals need to abandon their passivity and "neutrality" vis-ˆ-vis the fundamentalists and resist the barbaric rule of the Taliban and Jehadis at whatever level and with whatever means possible. We have full faith that only the unity of democratic forces, rallying and mobilising the masses for the formation of a broad anti-fundamentalist front can guarantee the establishment of peace and democracy in our country." "The prime obstacle that hinders and limits our work is acute financial problem. With the restrictions that Taliban has created for women in Afghanistan we find it very difficult to conduct our activities. Some years back a group of our members were arrested and imprisoned in Quetta; fundamentalists viciously attacked our peaceful demonstrations in Islamabad and Peshawar. As the only women's organisation struggling against Islamic fundamentalism, we are constantly receiving death threats of Islamic fundamentalists by post, phone and e-mail. Taliban attacked our members while they were selling RAWA publications; our leader Meena was martyred in Pakistan; the confessional killers of Meena and her two associates once were acquitted and released and some properties of RAWA are in the hands of Pakistan police. She says: "Right now the name of our members are in the Black List of Taliban. Pakistan is not safe for our activities. There are tens and hundreds of such incidents which we cannot go into here and which would need separate elaboration. Because of the attacks and threats from all sides, we cannot hope to be able to conduct open activities. The policy of the Pakistani government, as the creator of the fundamentalist groups has always been unfriendly towards democratic forces including RAWA. We have never seen any help from this government despite the fact that we are facing various difficulties in this country."
Sehar Saba and Sajeda Hayat, two activists of RAWA who visited European countries in April 2000, criticise the role of media, Sajeda states: "The negative role of the media over the last 20 years is something our people, especially the women, will never forget. It's not been only the US media but the media throughout the world. They made those criminals, those fundamentalists who killed our people, into leaders. The leaders of the fundamentalist parties became leaders through the media, especially the Pakistani and the US media. They never reflect the real situation of the people. They are always trying to do something in favour of those fundamentalist parties. The media never talk about democratic forces of Afghanistan, about RAWA's activities and the life of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The media could play a very important role for Afghan people."
Sajeda says: "I think the media is something that's not separated from the government. Whatever the government's interests, the media mostly will reflect that. These countries have interests in Afghanistan. I must say directly, the US is no longer involved. There isn't any evidence that they are giving money or weapons to the Taliban. But indirectly, through this media, the way they write about the Taliban, that the Taliban could be reformed, or not believing in (the possibility of) the overthrow of fundamentalists, in this way they indirectly support the Taliban and the fundamentalists because they have their own interests.
Sehar also blames USA for support of fundamental forces during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. During the early days of war in Afghanistan, the US government was trying to find some people, some parties, that they could train to resist the Russian occupation. These parties that received US aid, nobody had previously known anything about them, but when they came to Pakistan, and Peshawar, one of Pakistan's cities, became their centre of all their activities and crime, they received large amounts of money and weapons. But our people who struggled against the Russian invasion, they really didn't receive help."
Sehar – an active member of RAWA says that the fundamentalist groups had no real support from the Afghani people, but they became powerful while in Pakistan through the financial and military support of the US. They got financial, political, and military support from the US, from Pakistan, and from other countries. At the same time, the media made them heroes in the war against Russia, when the people were the real freedom fighters. If America really wanted to help, to support the fighting against Russia, there were several other parties they could have supported, groups which didn't have any purpose other than to get the country independence. She criticises that US and some other countries chose the fundamentalists to support over the ones supporting democracy because they know that the pro-democracy parties won't be the puppet of these other countries. These other countries wouldn't be able to maintain their economic and political interests in Afghanistan. But those fundamentalist parties, they don't have any kind of independence. These fundamentalist parties were trained, became leaders, and are like dolls in their masters' hands. What their supporters asked them to do, told them to do, they did.
Sajeda stresses the dire need of improvement of the situation there should be a stoppage of financial and military aid to the warring factions in Afghanistan. But the US government is not taking action against those who are. The US and the United Nations – and we think that their role is almost the same – they just want these warring factions to get together. They ask them to get united, which is not the solution for Afghanistan. Instead, they need to put pressure on the countries that are supporting these fundamentalists. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE directly support the Taliban. Even Pakistani and Arab men are fighters among the Taliban. And their political and military advisors are Pakistani and Arab. And France, Iran, India, and Russia, they support the Northern Alliance, the opposition to the Taliban. If the military and financial support for these fundamentalists were stopped, they would not be able to keep the power for even one day.
Sehar says: "The UN imposed economic sanctions on the Taliban. Sanctions should also be imposed on those countries that are supporting the Taliban and the other fundamentalists in Afghanistan. And the US, as a superpower, and the UN, as an organisation responsible for all countries, can send a peacekeeping force to Afghanistan. The UN says the government didn't invite them to send a peacekeeping force, but we think that's just an excuse. In other areas, and other countries, nobody, no government invited the UN or the US, but they went there and took action. They should listen to the people, what the people want in Afghanistan.