ABC Radio, May 29, 2009

Afghan women’s rights under threat: Interview with a RAWA member

Shazia Shakib spoke to Nance Haxton in Adelaide.

Reporter: Nance Haxton

MARK COLVIN: The rights of women in Afghanistan are deteriorating. It's a constant struggle to avoid a return to the days of the Taliban, when women were forbidden to get an education or even go shopping on their own.

Women, in many parts of Afghanistan, are again finding it increasingly dangerous to get health care and education.

RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, has been campaigning for democracy and better human rights for women in that country for more than 30 years.

Shazia Shakib is the alias of a member of RAWA in Australia at the moment, whose real name we're not using for her protection on return to Afghanistan.

She says that while many people in the West think that women in Afghanistan are now free, in reality the few rights they have are under threat.

Shazia Shakib spoke to Nance Haxton in Adelaide.

SHAZIA SHAKIB: Women are under attack from many sides. Violence against women is increasing. Very much there are gang rapes against women, forced marriages, kidnaps, acid attacks, and many things against women.

Self immolation is amplifying horrifically among women, so the situation for women is critical in Afghanistan.

NANCE HAXTON: Has this become worse in recent months?

SHAZIA SHAKIB: Yeah, this is because we have Taliban increased in different areas. The Northern Alliance are in power in the Parliament. In the ministries most of them are the gang lords and warlords there.

So they are misogynist and they are against women; they don't want them to be free and have their rights. Also, the US troops are attacking everywhere and they are bombarding everywhere.

About 2,000 cases self immolation have been recorded in the past year and this is because they find the only way out… there's no other way to get rid of it.

And often the 50,000 widows they feel the only way to get rid of all these miseries and sufferings is to self immolation and to suicide. So, they have no other way.

NANCE HAXTON: What about the education… as you say, many, perhaps Westerners, Australians think now that women can get education again in Afghanistan. Is that the case?

SHAZIA SHAKIB: In the big cities like Kabul, Herat, Mazar - they are the capital cities – the women can go to school and university but very a little percentage. Because these are the basic rights that we had before the Russian... but we should have more than that.

We don't have the opportunity for education of girls and women outside these cities. And the villages - there are no schools for girls. Women can't have jobs. Five per cent of people have jobs just in Afghanistan.

So, I think for everyone it's the worst the education system.

NANCE HAXTON: And for women who are going to school or university, are they at risk as well?

SHAZIA SHAKIB: Yes, because you might have heard that in Kandahar girls were acid attacked on the way to school and some of the schools in the north of Afghanistan, where the girls and teachers were poisoned by water, or something.

So they, because they are misogynist, they don't dare women to go to school and to have education.

NANCE HAXTON: There's been a lot of publicity here in Australia about Australian troops in Afghanistan and what they've been achieving. What's the thoughts on Australian troops in Afghanistan on the ground?

SHAZIA SHAKIB: Because they are following the US policy in Afghanistan, so I think it's bad. They are having hand in the war crimes against people. They're not really supporting, they're not giving security for Afghan people, because in the last eight years proved that there's not positive change for Afghan people.

Last year we had an incident that in Uruzghan they bombed and about five children were killed by their attacks; the Australian troops.

So… mmm, I think they should have their independent policy in Afghanistan. They should support, really, the Afghan people, not follow the US policy.

NANCE HAXTON: Are you taking a risk even speaking in Australia? Is that part of the reason you've had to obscure your identity as well?

SHAZIA SHAKIB: Coming to Australia it's not risky inside Australia. But if in Afghanistan, people know that I'm a RAWA member and I go outside talking the real things, then it will be very dangerous for me.

MARK COLVIN: Afghan women's activist Shazia Shakib, speaking to Nance Haxton in Adelaide.

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Extended interview with Shazia Shakib:
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