The Hindu (India), October 21, 2001

A war ... by men


One of the groups spearheading the struggle for women's rights in that country is the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). At this present juncture, when we see darkened screens and flickering lights to indicate that a country is being pounded virtually out of existence, it is instructive to visit the RAWA website (

The women behind this organisation launched their fight for women's rights long before the Taliban appeared on the horizon. Founded in 1977, RAWA campaigned for these rights even as their country was convulsed with violent struggles between different groups ending in the Soviet occupation in December 1979. This did not stop these brave women. Even when a number of them were arrested and their leader, Meena, was murdered, allegedly by KGB agents in Pakistan in 1987, they persisted. RAWA worked with women in Afghanistan as well as the millions in the refugee camps across the border in Pakistan. They ran schools, created jobs for women, ran a hospital and counselled their traumatised and displaced sisters.

The advent of the Taliban brought in a whole new dimension to their struggle. They could not operate freely in Afghanistan any more as women were forced to wear the burqa and banned from most jobs. But despite this they found ways to continue to work amongst Afghan women. Their website has a slide show that is not meant for the faint-hearted. It gives you an unedited view of life as it was in Afghanistan.

But the important point that RAWA makes is that those opposing Taliban are not much better in their attitude towards women. Nor do they respect human rights. While RAWA has emphasised its commitment to democracy and secularism, they point out that none of the groups fighting to displace the Taliban have any commitment to these values. In other words, the chances that women might be better off if the Taliban is replaced with another group is not at all a given in Afghanistan.



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