Women in Afghanistan today:
hopes, achievements and challenges
Speech Delivered by Mariam Rawi, Member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
at the University of South Australia on April 27, 2006
Let me convey to you all the warmest greetings from my sisters in Afghanistan. I, on behalf of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women, advocating for peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights in Afghanistan, would like to express heartfelt thanks to SAWA and The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre for giving me the opportunity to talk about the situation of my country- especially the women.
I belong to Afghanistan, a country that has been at intense war for over two decades and now has fallen back into the hands of criminals, who made the major contribution in its looting and destruction. I am speaking of the Islamic fundamentalists, whose reign of terror from 1992 to 1996 left behind a legacy of tens of thousands of deaths and homelessness. These Islamic militants and warlords rule over the whole country again with their guns and money as their real power, while unfortunately the western world and United State at the top, just stare at them.
You might expect me to talk about Afghanistan as a free, peaceful and liberated country but painfully and unfortunately the reality is not what you might be aware of through media. After the September 11, and the subsequent US military intervention in Afghanistan in the name of "war on terror" and "liberating Afghan women", despite tall claims of USA and its allies, Afghanistan is still burning in two-fold fire. On one hand, there are the brutal and horrific Jahadi fundamentalists of the "Northern Alliance" who are supported by the USA and on the other hand, there are the Taliban and Al-Qaida terrorists who have the support of all the fundamentalist and terrorist regimes, parties and organizations in different parts of world.
RAWA has stated several times that an administration, legislature and judiciary under the domination of the criminals and traitors, will never do any good for our bereaved people. Against the accusations that RAWA's criticisms and attacks on government are always from a negative point of view, treacherousness and corruption has meshed around the roots of government so deep. And there are several examples to prove it:
Like previous years UN is warning that Afghanistan is going to become a Norco-State under the "Northern Alliance" drug mafia.
"New York Times" has exposed a number of these drug dealers and the former interior minister has another list of them. "Financial Times", January 31st says Afghanistan's issue is not an easy issue. It is a country where the government has stopped poor and hungry farmers from growing poppy but lets the governor of the same province keep dealing in drugs. It is a land that is facing health disaster worse than Tsunami. 700 children and 50-70 women die on daily basis due to the lack of health services.
Ironically, this is happening in a country that has received 12 billion dollars in aid while another 10 billion were pledged at the recent London conference. Even a fraction of this aid has not been used for the benefit and welfare of our people, but filled the pockets of the warlords and high rank officials. According to Dr. Ramazan Bashar Dost a popular MP and former minister of planning, if one billion of the aid reaching Afghanistan was spent honestly to benefit people, Afghanistan's features would have changed.
An inquiry by the US daily, the "Washington Post" (Nov.20, 2005), has discovered serious flaws in the US efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, suggesting that corruption and inefficiency caused millions of dollars to be wasted on useless projects.
While the country is in chaos and our people are fed up with corruption, drugs, poverty and thousands of other political, social and economic problems, the compromising government of president Karzai is unable even to solve smallest of these issues. The recent war of words between Afghanistan and Pakistan is nothing but a good tool for the governments of both countries to deceive people to raise false nationalism issue, and drive the attention from the internal problems which are threatening people.
The USA and its allies have always been hypocrite in war on terror. They have never been concerned with the main cause behind terrorism. The US government keeps promising not to repeat its past mistake. But the agonizing truth is that the USA is committing the same mistake by replacing the Taliban with infamous "Northern Alliance" fundamentalists. And by brining them back to power, USA proved that they are not concerned with the establishment of peace and democracy in the region.
I speak of a land where 11 year old Rahima, fourteen-year old Fatima and her mother were raped by warlords gunmen; a land where Amina was stoned to death; where 9 year old Saima was easily tortured and scarified for her father's violence; where Gulbahar was burnt by her husband when she refused to go back to his house; a land where young UN worker Muska --exactly on the election day-- after being kidnapped by gunmen, had to immolate herself to save her honor; where despite the presence of more than six thousands UN peace keeping troops in only in capital city of Kabul, aid workers are kidnapped in broad day light; and so onů.
But those who are responsible for the mentioned brutality are sure that they have the support of local warlords and fundamentalist misogynists and know that there is no law or at least implementation of law which might bring them to justice.
As Amnesty International says in its 2005 report: "Women continue to face systematic and widespread violence and public and private discrimination. Fear of abductions by armed groups forced women to restrict their movements outside the home. In the family, extreme restrictions on women's behavior and high levels of violence persisted. Election officials registering women voters were among those killed by armed groups".
You might have heard recently that the USA and other western countries tried to stop the fundamentalist court in Afghanistan to not sentence Abdul Rahman, an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity 14 years back and was arrested in Kabul. No doubt, defending freedom of belief and expression is the main pillar of democracy and RAWA as a secular organization believes in it and therefore defending Abdulrahmans against fundamentalist court is a positive step but America's much ado in support of Abdulrahman lose its meaning because they kept silent from 1992-1996 when the "Northern Alliance" criminals got power and committed the most shocking crimes against our people, and especially the women. The "Northern Alliance" were not only trailed and taken accountable for their crimes but once again imposed on our people with the support of USA and left free to make the life of our women much more miserable.
Therefore, defending Abdularahman's case by the USA and the West is meaningless for our people because if democratic values including freedom of belief mattered to the USA, it above all would have condemned and punished the "Northern Alliance" military groups who are the main violators of these values.
What I just talked about, is the reality of my country. Surely you will agree with me and my people that such a country cannot be free and liberated!
In Afghanistan as one of the most backward and traditional countries of the world women's rights have always been ignored and they were subjected to every kind of horrible male chauvinism; in short, women are discriminated in society in every aspects. Therefore, to raise the voice of the Afghan women in an organized and effective manner was a necessity and a problem to which an answer should have been given. And the establishment of RAWA was the right answer.
RAWA was formed in Kabul in 1977 as a way to promote women's rights through nonviolent action. Since then, the organisation has evolved - it now runs schools, orphanages, mobile health-care units, adult literacy classes, income-generating projects, and it provides emergency relief in refugee camps.
As a women's organization we are opposed to violence and believe in human suffrage, therefore we have concentrated our work on increasing awareness among women and encouraging them to struggle for gaining their basic rights. As far as our economical means allow us (which are critical at this moment) we have engaged in organizing demonstrations, conferences, publicity campaigns through our normal publication and also Internet. We have gained experience using these means to deliver the voice of our women to the people of the world and we have had some success in it.
The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan is at the forefront of the international campaign for women's rights and democracy in Afghanistan. We are of the opinion that Afghanistan will never experience a real peace and justice if the fundamentalists are not eliminated as political and military force in Afghanistan. We also believe that only a secular democracy can bring stability to our country.
RAWA is perhaps one of the most important organizations aware of the gravity of the situation in its entirety. RAWA alone is fighting for enlightening the minds of the people. The key issue for RAWA is to make people aware and to inspire them into believing that freedom from the hands of fundamentalism and terrorism is not impossible. To this end, RAWA uses all justified means. By educating people, especially women, RAWA has been able to win many hearts.
RAWA continues its work, speaking out as loudly as we can about the problems Afghan women face under the puppet government of Hamid Karzai. Their suffering continues in the face of violence and poverty. Our outspokenness, along with our activities in educating and economically empowering women, has put RAWA members at great risk.
We the women of Afghanistan are well aware of the hardships, challenges, threats and sacrifices in our struggle. To overcome the menace of fundamentalism and establish true and secular democracy in Afghanistan, we the people of Afghanistan need the support of human rights defenders and freedom-loving organizations and individuals.
We believe that in a country where women are not counted as human being and are treated worse then cattle, working for women's rights and secularism is a great and revolutionary struggle and it is because of this fact, that we call ourselves "revolutionary". A real democratic Afghanistan based on women's rights is a real revolution in a benighted and war- torn country like Afghanistan.
The major hardships RAWA face are financial and security concerns while continuing its humanitarian and political activities. No need to talk about the importance of the support not just in words but practically to anti-fundamentalist movements of people especially in Central Asia as the center of most dangerous terrorism in the world. But we are left alone in this fight.
If the enemies of democracy and peace can get united, why can't the anti-fundamentalist forces all over get united and form a wide, active and powerful front to make another world possible.
Thank you very much!
Afghanistan facing 'major health crisis'
The Sydney Morning Herald, April 27, 2006
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