Santa Barbara News Press, June 23, 2002

Afghan Women Tell their Stories in Documentary

Film to be shown at Santa Barbara's central Library

by Ann Griffith

In Kabul, a beautician jokes about her old technique for wearing a burqa without mussing her hair or makeup. Under the Taliban, the woman operated a secret, illegal salon out of her home.

Now, with the oppressive regime gone and an interim government in place, she has a new shop with a big sign announcing her profession. She can openly polish nails and perm hair.

What may seem like a trifling comfort in the United States is a symbol of change in Afghanistan. While life there doesn't resemble what most Americans would consider normal, it is slowly improving.

The new lives of many Afghan women were captured in a documentary called "Sadaa E Zan", or "Voices of Women", filmed by Santa Barbara resident Renee Bergan during a March visit.

It will be shown for the first time at 7 p.m. Monday in the Faulkner Gallery at the Central Branch library in downtown Santa Barbara, 40 E. Anapamu St.

The showing is sponsored by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) Supporters Santa Barbara, which helped pay for Ms. Bergan's trip.

The event is free, but attendees will be asked for a donation to RAWA, the parent organization of RAWA Supporters. The money will go toward schools, medical clinics and other service operated by the nonprofit group in the battle-torn country.

"In Kabul itself, there's a lot of excitement. There's a lot of eagerness for women to get back in government," said Ms. Bergan, who remembers the beautician as one of the most memorable interviews of her trip. "She was just one of the first women who had a lot of vibrancy and spunk".

Ms. Bergan traveled to Afghanistan with Global Exchange, a San Francisco human rights group that organized the visit to coincide with International Women's Day on March 8. Professionals were selected based on their ability to improve conditions in the country. And both Global Exchange and RAWA Supp orters helped pay for the trip. (Note: Global exchange did NOT help with funding.)

"I thought that all the people of the world had forgotten the people of Afghanistan, especially the women.", one woman said in the documentary, which last week was still being edited from 154 hours of tape. "They've done nothing for us."

That changed, she recalled, after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 and the subsequent U.S. Military operations that toppled the Taliban. Now residents are thankful their plight is getting more attention, even though the country is still dangerous and change is slow.

One beautiful young woman in the video became scarred when a man threw acid on her face. He was punishing her in post-Taliban Afghanistan for going out without covering herself up.

"They're not sure of the future of the government, and what will happen next," Ms. Bergan said.

Other brave women in the film casually talk about running illegal schools under the noses of Taliban supporters. The children walking to the underground schools would wrap their textbooks in fabric and pretend they were copies of the Quran. Now the women can teach openly and are working toward a stable government that won't revert to decades of atrocities.

Back in Santa Barbara, however, RAWA Supporters has seen a drop in attendance at its meeting and in donations following a surge after Sept. 11.

"I think America has a short attention span," said Briana Lawrie, President of RAWA Supporters. "People think everything's OK now, and that's not true."

To contribute to RAWA Supporters Santa Barbara, send donations to P.O. Box 30693, Santa Barbara 93130. For more information, contact Briana Lawrie via e-mail at

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