The Advertiser Review, Aug.4, 2007
Struggle for Afghan women
By Sohaila, member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
If you are freedom-loving and anti-fundamentalist, you are with us, says the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. RAWA has been waging a struggle for human rights, democracy and secular values for 30 years. The Taliban may have been run out of power in Kabul but they still terrorize much of the country.
Disappointingly, there has been little progress for women under the Western-backed Government of Hamid Karzai. RAWA's struggle for women's rights is as vital - and dangerous - as ever. These brave Afghans put their lives at risk every day, but the alternative - submitting to degrading and brutal treatment - is not an option for them.
Forced marriage for girls, sometimes as young as 11, abuse, wife beating and other forms of maltreatment are commonplace in Afghanistan and often lead to women committing suicide. In one such case, during November 2006, in the north of Afghanistan, an 11-year-old girl, Sanubar, was kidnapped by warlords and exchanged for a dog.
Extreme poverty, high mortality rates related to malnutrition and childbirth; and a culture of misogamy are still bleak features of everyday life in Afghanistan.
Security for girls is extremely poor, kidnap, rape and murder are frequent. Thirty years of war have left two million widows in Afghanistan, 50,000 of them in Kabul. These women and their children often live in horrific conditions.
RAWA is the oldest independent political/social organization of Afghan women. It has been campaigning for peace, freedom and women's rights since 1977. This struggle has continued through Soviet occupation, Taliban rule, the American offensive and the present reign of warlords.
The brave women of RAWA take great risks. The organizationís founder, Meena, was killed in 1987 and members' work makes them a target for fundamentalists. The US War on Terror removed the Taliban regime in October 2001, but has not rid the country of religious fundamentalism. In fact, by reinstalling the warlords in power in Afghanistan, the US Administration is replacing one fundamentalist regime with another. RAWA claims that the US and Afghan Government rely mostly on Northern Alliance criminal leaders who are as brutal and misogynist as the Taliban. They believe the presence of US and other foreign troops makes things worse in Afghanistan.
RAWA supports Malalai Joya, the woman recently kicked out of the Afghan Parliament. Upon her return from a successful world tour - which included a speech at the University of South Australia - Joya was given a three year suspension for criticizing fellow politicians. She is now being investigated by the High Court, and the Interior Ministry prevents her from traveling outside the country.
Apart from the political challenges facing RAWA, essential social and relief work among severely traumatized women and children needs to be increased to meet the growing crisis. This work takes many forms; RAWA has established schools with hostels for girls and bogs, often in refugee camps. A hospital with mobile teams for refugees, and orphanages.
RAWA strongly believes education is the key to positive change and that it can empower women to take their rightful place in a free, democratic Afghanistan liberated from fundamentalism and violence.
Unfortunately, because RAWA doesn't support the Karzai regime, it receives no support from international aid agencies or governments. Its humanitarian projects depend on assistance from overseas support groups.
One such support group is SAWA, the Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan. Based in Adelaide, this Australia-wide group of RAWA supporters works hard to raise funds for RAWA projects and awareness of the plight of women and children in Afghanistan.
Money raised in Australia maintains the Nasimah Shahecd High School for Girls in the Khewa refugee camp on the Afghani Pakistan border. This school has a secular curriculum based on humanitarian values, equality and respect for others- It offers free tuition, teaching materials for 300 girls and boarding for those whose parents live in those Afghanistan provinces which do not have good schools. The curriculum of government schools in Afghanistan is dominated by religious studies and reinforces the ideology that a woman is only worth half a man. Many Afghan parents, therefore send their girls to RAWA schools in Pakistan because they offer security and quality education free from fundamentalist indoctrination.
It is through the spirit of Australian generosity and goodwill that Nasimah Shaheed High School can continue to operate.
Two years ago, according to the Kabul office of UNICEF, more than one million girls aged between seven and 13 were not enrolled in school. Today, girls are staying away from schools, which the Taliban have targeted as a priority. More than 400 schools have been attacked during the past 10 months; teachers have been killed in front of their class. Only last month, six students were shot on their way to school, two of them fatally.
Sohaila will speak at the Australian Education Union Hall on Wednesday.
RAWA member Sohaila in Australia (SAWAN, No.15, August 2007)