RFI, August 6, 2010
Don’t exploit women to justify war, says Afghan activist
The lives of some women did improve during the three years following the 2001 invasion, Aziz concedes, but only in urban centres
The war in Afghanistan is not going well for the US and its allies, as the recent WikiLeaks revelations have shown. So should US President Barack Obama keep his commitment to start withdrawal next year? Some American media are asking if that means leaving Afghan women to the mercies of the Taliban. One Afghan woman activist tells RFI that she is suspicious of such claims.
Aziz is vice-president of Afghan Education for a Better Tomorrow and has worked with several other groups helping Afghan women abused by men or traumatised by war. Although she bitterly opposes proposals to talk to the Taliban, she fears that the condition of Afghan women is being exploited to justify the war.
The shocking cover of this week’s Time magazine features 18-year-old Aisha, whose nose and ears were cut off by a Taliban commander because she fled abusive in-laws.
“What happens if we leave Afghanistan,” reads the headline.
That arouses mixed feelings in Nahid Aziz, an Afghan-born clinical psychologist now living in the US.
“Obviously, this is a political issue,” she comments. “With the WikiLeaks documents we know there is a lot of push by the US government, saying that we need to promote the women’s issues so that we can gain support in the West, particularly in the US.”
Aziz is vice-president of Afghan Education for a Better Tomorrow and has worked with several other groups helping Afghan women abused by men or traumatised by war.
Although she bitterly opposes proposals to talk to the Taliban, she fears that the condition of Afghan women is being exploited to justify the war.
“Women’s issues always have been taken advantage [of],” she says. “… whether there was in the Soviet invasion, now the US invasion and even during the civil war, women have been used drastically, unfortunately.”
The lives of some women did improve during the three years following the 2001 invasion, Aziz concedes, but only in urban centres.
“The women were allowed to go back and go attend to their jobs and go back to school and especially women in larger cities. But not so much the rest of women in Afghanistan … we’re talking about 40 per cent of the women, in general.”
The failure to establish peace and security in rural areas means that the changes never reached much of the country, Aziz says, and, even at the highest level, many rights only exist on paper.
“Even though the constitution mandates that 25 per cent of the parliamentarians need to be comprised of women … they don’t have any voice in the parliament. They are basically sitting behind the warlords.”
The failure to bring warlords, many of them former anti-Soviet mujahedeen, to task has left them wielding enormous power under President Hamid Karzai, says Aziz. That means no rule of law and no peace.
And peace is what is first on most women’s minds.
“What they want right now is security, safety for their children to go to school, something to eat, for them to be able even to have a quiet night where they can sleep.”
But Aziz, who has worked with many victims of domestic violence and other abuse, is vehemently opposed to the Taliban and angered by reports that both Karzai and the US want to negotiate with them.
“When we think about negotiating with the Taliban, it’s almost deadly for Afghanistan, especially Afghan women, in this context,” she says.
But she fears it may be part of the foreign powers’ exit strategy.
“A very short and brief reconciliation, even if it lasts for a month, would mean something to the US government, saying ‘Well at least we’ve established peace there’.”
After 30 years of “violence, atrocities and devastation”, activists like Aziz argue, Afghans themselves have to confront the past and find the solutions for their country’s numerous problems.
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