Speech of a RAWA member
in the conference "Women and Revolutions"
November 18-19,1999 - Naples, Itlay
Dear and respected friends,
Allow me to start my speech by greeting you. By this act I commit an offense for which Afghan women under the domination of Islamic fundamentalists imposing Sharia law in Afghanistan are severely punished because they do not have the right to greet or express themselves where male strangers are present. As a symbolic act of defiance I would like to heartily shake hands with each and every one of you because fundamentalist edicts say women should absolutely not do so. To this forum where we talk of women's revolution as one of the most vital task of the moment, I convey to you the greetings and regards of Afghan women who are deprived of their most basic human rights and are unfortunately the most forgotten women in the world.
In various epochs of history, mankind has been witness to revolutions which have changed and shaped world outlook. It is difficult to recall a revolution carried out by men alone. History has on record great and glorious deeds of women who played significant roles.
Let's look at French history. The name of Jean d'Arc as the leader of national resistance against English domination, Marie Paule Parant and Leberte Rose Barreau as key players in the French Revolution stand forth boldly from its pages. Along with men, women and children too laid down their lives on that path. It is not irrelevant that Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, wrote: "What a formidable nation it would be if the France population were only composed of women!"
During the Industrial Revolution in Europe women had remarkable involvement in organizing rallies and strikes and establishing unions. In Russia, women's struggles were outstanding: from mass strike to establishment of various unions up to keeping the revolutionary spirit alive and vibrant, all were closely associated with the participation of women. Women throughout the ages have participated in armed and unarmed struggles against aggression and tyranny. The memory of heroic women such as Clara Zetkin, Roza Luxemburg, Kolontai and Jamila Bopasha are beacons of inspiration for us.
Like us, the brave women of Iran are also struggling against religious fascism. It would be hard to find any country with so many women prisoners as there are in Iran.
It is difficult for me not to continue to remember and talk about heroic and inspiring women and their achievements and contribution to revolutionary changes in the world, but it would be better for me to draw your attention to the other side of the reality of women's lives and works, namely the inferno of the counter-revolution which engulfs every rebellion and burns women in particular in its flaming hell.
I come from Afghanistan, from a land under the domination of the most brutal and felonious group of ignorant religious fascists. Our land is in the grip of medieval savages whose ominous acts have no parallel in the modern history of any country in the world. If Algerian religious fanatics cut the throats of their child-victims, Afghan religious fanatics first rape their victims and then loot all they have. I come from a land where the depth of the tragedy of Afghan women is not only that the eyes and ears and mouths and tongues of Afghan women are stitched up under the guise of Islamic hejab (veils) or that they are prevented from going to public bathhouses or going to the dressmaker's, the tragedy lies in the fact that in the vast cemetery named Afghanistan the sick mentality of the "masters" of the country is such that neither the rape of nine-year-old girls or of seventy-year-old grandmothers are considered to be too revolting or too shameful. Systematic degrading humiliation and public floggings of women innocent of any crime are everyday events; destitution and starvation continually turn respectable mothers and daughters in to beggars and prostitutes.
Since the domination of Jahadis and Taliban, our country is constantly burning in the grief of thousands killed, cities destroyed, and untold atrocities committed together with looting and the fomenting of racial and ethnic hatreds. In the midst of all this, nearly no voice or hand has reached out to them with a comforting touch.
While the rest of the worlds is set to welcome the twenty-first century, in Afghanistan television, music, film, theater, sport - in the short all manifestations of modern civilized life- are being stamped out by the Taliban. While in other parts of the world women's movements are making significant gains worldwide, our women are deprived of the most elementary human rights. Indeed, they are bought and sold like cattle, humiliated, whipped, beaten, restricted in the their movements, and are considered to have little worth other than satisfying male sexual needs and bearing children. Fascistic restrictions, starvation, scarcity of foodstuffs and basic needs, homelessness, unemployment, war and destruction- all gifts from Taliban and Jihadis- have so darkened the lives of our people and specially women folk that large numbers have turned to beggary, prostitution and suicide. It is a measure of the depth of the tragedy created by the fundamentalists that many desperate mothers and fathers have, out of poverty and necessity, been reduced to selling their children.
It is all the more painful that some ascribe such savagery to the traditions and culture and even the wishes of the Afghan people. Such apologists thus want to hide the real face of Islamic fundamentalists but forget that our traditions and culture have never been so inhuman and anti-women.
Tradition cannot and must not be regarded as something sacred. Many inhuman traditions and customs have been done away with throughout historical development. What goes on in Afghanistan -and termed "Afghan culture" by apologists of fundamentalist savagery- are inhuman practices stemming from imposed ignorance. RAWA has never given in to such "traditions" and has always struggled to the best of its ability to have them rooted out in the shortest possible time. RAWA strongly believes that selling girls and treating women like livestock and having no respect for their rights as human beings and as women are traditions that need to perish and be done away with for ever. If it is true that our world has become a "small village" then should the "villagers" allow offensive and inhuman "traditions" to defile their "small village"? Why would the "villagers" keep silent and not get actively involved when they see that in a part of the "village" a handful of people are committing crimes under the name of religion and traditions? If criminals of war in this or that country are brought to trial why not the Afghan Jihadis and Taliban who have committed and continue to commit the most brutal crimes imaginable?
The only hope that our people look to in this atmosphere of oppressive darkness is the flame of struggle for eliminating fundamentalism and achieving freedom and democracy. Like heroic Afghan women such as Malalai, Nahid and Wajiha who sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom, the very existence and staunch struggles of RAWA as the only feminist political organization is a witness of the undeniable fact that women in Afghanistan have never bowed down to the inhuman treatment of fundamentalists but have fought back in the most bloody and suffocating conditions for achieving their rights. RAWA is enormously proud of its banner which has been stained red by the blood of its founder, Meena, and which has become an inspiration for all freedom-loving women.
The UN and all countries, organizations and individuals advocating freedom and human rights need to come forward to support in words and deeds the Afghan democratic forces including and especially RAWA as the ONLY feminist organization fighting against the fundamentalists and for democracy and women's rights. Instead of imposing sanctions which will hurt our already devastated people, the US and UN must impose real and severe sanctions against all those countries which arm and fund the Taliban and their rivals.
We are of the opinion that speaking out and struggling for human rights, freedom and democracy is the greatest revolutionary task. Despite being a small organization, RAWA could not have been able to continue its activities if it were not supported by the masses of women. But we feel stronger with the practical support we receive from our revolutionary sisters, and we are strengthened in our resolve to firmly oppose and struggle against all forms and manifestations of religious fundamentalism, be it Islamic, Christian, Jewish or any other religion and irrespective of whether it is in Afghanistan or Iran or Sudan or any other corner of the world.
As we enter the new millennium, in many countries counter-revolution has taken the form of inhuman religious fanaticism, particularly the Islamic type which is threatening global peace and security and is committing the most savage violations of human rights. Religious fundamentalism, particularly Islamic fundamentalism, is the greatest barrier in the way of women's equal rights movements. We can respond to this terrorism and savagery only by establishing a world wide anti-fundamentalist front, and immensely increasing pressure on those who in any way nourish and arm such elements.
We express our solidarity with all the pro-freedom movements in Iran, Kurdistan, Palestine, Kashmir, Indonesia, East Timor and Latin American and African countries. We wish to cooperate with all pro-democracy organizations but it is a fact that defending and supporting the revolution should not be confined only to speeches in functions and conferences. Practical steps have to be taken in support of revolutionaries of the entire world. We can be faithful to revolutionary aims by not allowing the claws of fundamentalists to tear into the throats of the oppressed masses in various parts of the globe. Revolutionary entities, particularly women's entities, must prove their revolutionary credentials by practical and meaningful cooperation and support to the democratic forces of Afghanistan including RAWA.
Let us hope and work for the emancipation of Afghan women from the clutches of religious fundamentalist fascism. Let us hope and work for a more vociferous voice of protest of the whole pro-democracy community of women and men.
Let the fundamentalist and their foreign masters be terrified by the solidarity of revolutionary women of the world with RAWA.