The Star-Telegram, , Sep.30, 2001
Afghan women don't have the same liberties
By Alyson Ward
In these patriotic days, while we're all feeling thankful to be Americans, don't overlook the freedom and opportunities we have as American women - women in Afghanistan have a far different reality.
In the past few weeks, you've heard a lot about the Taliban regime and the fearful society it has created in Afghanistan. Afghan women have been hardest hit by the regime's system of harsh rules and bitter punishments.
Since the Taliban took over in 1996, life has become extremely restrictive for Afghan women. Women cannot work outside the home or attend school, and they must wear a head-to-toe veil, at all times. They are punished - stoned, whipped, beaten or executed - for leaving their ankles uncovered, using cosmetics, riding bicycles, laughing loudly or for any number of other activities the Taliban deems illegal.
Windows are painted so women cannot be seen from outside their homes. Those who break the law are punished in public events at a Kabul soccer stadium. Because they are not allowed to work, many women must resort to begging in order to feed themselves and their children. (A recent CNN Special Report, for which reporter Saira Shah went undercover with a hidden camera, showed an Afghan woman buying moldy scraps of bread.)
Despite the Taliban's restrictions - and the high prices for breaking them - an organization of Afghan women works to fight the regime, providing medical services, shelter and education for women and children. The covert (and illegal) group is RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. The group of about 2,000 women runs underground schools for women and children in refugee camps and their own homes. The group also stages demonstrations and chronicles the women's struggle through a newsletter and other publications.
RAWA was started in 1977 by a group of college-educated women working for equal rights. That was two years before the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when Afghan women had more freedoms and could be educated. When the Soviets invaded, RAWA staged protests against communist rule; when the group's founding leader was killed in 1987 by the Afghan KGB and its fundamentalist accomplices, the organization went underground.
RAWA accepts donations and assistance of any kind. To help or to find out more, go to the RAWA Web site at www.rawa.org.