Green Left Weekly, June 14, 2009
Afghan feminist: No other country can grant us peace
The US troops and NATO troops are not there to bring security and peace for Afghan people.
With more than 20,000 extra US soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) argues that eight years of foreign occupation has made life worse for ordinary Afghans.
Shazia in Australia
RAWA is an organisation that defends women’s and human rights and advocates for a fully democratic and secular government in Afghanistan. Shazia (not her real name) lives in Kabul and teaches English, translates RAWA publications for the international media and visits rural Afghanistan as a reporter for RAWA’s magazine, Payam-e-Zan (Message of Women). During her recent speaking tour in Australia she spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Katherine Bradstreet.
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“[Afghan President Hamid] Karzai and the US are claiming that there is a big change, a positive change for women, now they’re free and there is a democratic society. This is not the reality”, Shazia said.
“[The reality is] the situation for women is getting worse, as it was during the Taliban. The number of gang rapes is up, domestic violence is increasing, women are self-immolating because they feel that is the only way to [escape] these miseries.
“There is a lot of kidnapping of children and also acid attacks on school girls … So the situation for women is getting worse. People are not safe, there is no security for them.
“The Taliban are just in a few provinces in the west, in provinces like Helmand and Farah, not all over Afghanistan. But we have other enemies — the warlords, the Northern Alliance who have power, and the government of Afghanistan, and they are also very dangerous for Afghan people: they are in the parliament, they are in the ministries. We are having problems from other sides, not just the Taliban.
“The US troops and NATO troops are not there to bring security and peace for Afghan people. They are using the warlords, who were their creation in the first place, and giving them support to be in power and they are giving them a lot of encouragement to do a lot of bad things against people.
“The warlords have the support of US troops and NATO troops. That is why they are very strong and commit a lot of crimes against people.”
US military officials claim the troop surge is in response to a growing Taliban insurgency. However, Shazia said the US and NATO “have their own interests for Afghanistan. They want to make their military base in Afghanistan so they can stay there for a longer time … They are also committing crimes, they are bombing different areas, they are killing ordinary people”.
Despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan, under the guise of providing freedom and democracy, it remains incredibly hard for RAWA activists to continue their work.
“RAWA is the only political organisation in Afghanistan for women and we have a lot of enemies because we always disclose their bad-doings”, Shazia explained. “We always get many threats, because they are against women; they do not want women to be activists and to struggle for their rights. They think that women are the second sex and can’t do anything. That is why they try to stop us.”
RAWA also provides much-needed practical assistance to people. Shazia said: “RAWA has different projects. We have many orphanages in Afghanistan and Pakistan … We are getting education and childcare and food. We have a vocational training centre where hundreds of women get training in handicrafts and literacy.
“We have health-care centres and … a high school in Islamabad [for refugees]. More than 300 children, boys and girls, are going to that school. And we also have a lot of publications inside RAWA.”
In 2007, the Pakistani government repatriated more than 350,000 refugees from Pakistan.
Shazia said: “We had a refugee camp in Pakistan, in Peshawar, a few years back. We had schools and clinics, we had orphanages in that camp. But we closed that after Pakistan removed all the refugees from Pakistan … But now we have our activities in Islamabad and other places.”
Shazia said the developing conflict in Pakistan is affecting RAWA’s work as well. “A few weeks back, we had a lot of trouble from the police of Pakistan … They wanted us to stop our school and orphanages there, they were thinking, ‘you are having co-education and you are a school so the Taliban are against this, so you have to stop’.”
Support from the international community will also play a part in the Afghan people’s struggle for peace and democracy, said Shazia.
Her speaking tour in Australia was to explain “the reality of the Afghan women and Afghan people because [Australians] are not aware. They just see in the media that everything is ok and everything is now open and people are free.
“But we want to tell them that it is not the reality. We are living inside [the country] and we know how people are living in a very bad situation.
“Those organisations and people who are anti-war, that support the democratic groups, they must support … democratic groups and organisations like RAWA because they will be the future of Afghanistan and they will bring change for the Afghan people.
“[Anti-war] demonstrations and such gatherings will have a big impact on the situation in Afghanistan”, she said. “We think the first step is that [foreign troops] should leave Afghanistan because we do not need war. They should leave Afghanistan because we have three enemies now, not only two or one.
“We, ourselves will bring peace and security for our people because no other country can grant us … peace, democracy and security”.
[Shazia’s speaking tour was organised by the Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan-Australia and raised funds for some of RAWA’s projects. For more information, visit http://www.rawa.org or http://www.sawa-australia.org.]