Star-Telegram, March 10, 2002

Lifting the veil

International Women's Day focuses on resistance of Afghan women's organization

Star-Telegram Dallas Bureau

DALLAS - Through underground schools, secret medical care and food distribution, Afghan women have long been fighting for their rights and for social justice, a supporter of their efforts said Saturday.

For nearly 25 years, members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan have been covertly working to better their country, said Alicia Lucksted, coordinator of the U.S. Supporters Network for RAWA.

But the Afghan women's group "is just one example of how everywhere there is oppression, there is resistance," Lucksted said.

Lucksted spoke at an International Women's Day celebration, which focused on women in Afghanistan, at the Women's Museum in Dallas.

Throughout the Taliban's rule, the women in the group clandestinely gave other women medical care and taught that skill to others, helped women whose husbands were slain and distributed food, though they could have been stoned to death if they had been caught, Lucksted said.

Since the Taliban lost power, the country has seen improvements for women, but fundamentalist views still threaten those gains, she said. Even at some refugee camps in Pakistan, Afghan women are not allowed to attend schools.

Many members of the women's group are still operating cautiously because it is too early to tell how they will be treated, Lucksted said.

"A lot of things have changed, but a lot have stayed the same," she said. "There is an increase of chaos right now, and RAWA fears there may be more factional fighting within the country."

Still, the organization has become more visible to those outside the country, and with increased donations the group has been able to disperse more food and open a hospital and schools.

Wendlyn Alter, institute director at the museum, said the women of RAWA represent the courage many women across the globe have in fighting for their rights.

"These women are working for rights at the most fundamental levels," she said, also emphasizing that their work can still be dangerous. "The prevailing attitude toward women has not magically disappeared and shows signs of coming back."

During the daylong event, Afghan music, poetry and food were presented. Attendants were encouraged to try on burqas to get a sense of what the restrictive garment is like for Afghan women.

"It really gave me the point of view of how these women have had to live," said Denton resident Fred Davis, 25. "It was constrictive because it was very tight around my head. It was warm and very different from being in open air."



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