The Voice of America, Sep. 17, 2004
Advocates Say More Improvements Needed
for Afghan Women
By Kerry Sheridan
Leading women's activists from Afghanistan and Iraq say U.S. intervention has had only limited success in liberating women in their nations. Too often, they say, women continue to be targets of abuse, kidnapping and oppression, even after military operations have ousted tyrannical leaders. Several women's advocates visited New York this week, to share their concerns and ask for help during a conference on women and power.
President Bush often mentions freedom for women as a symbol of success in the war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan. "That country has a new constitution, guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women. Businesses are opening, health care centers are being established, and the boys and girls of Afghanistan are back in school," he says.
Women's activists from Afghanistan acknowledge that some progress has been made since the removal of the Taleban regime. Young girls are going to classes in the capital, Kabul, and in some areas, women are allowed to work outside the home. But Zoya, a member of a group called the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) who does not use her last name for security reasons, says the recent improvements are limited, and that the situation for women is worsening in the rest of the country. "They cannot go without a male relative outside their houses, and they have no access to education and there are health problems for them. So we think that the bombs in Afghanistan - the bombing by the U.S. administration - has not changed the situation because they replaced one fundamentalist [group] with another one," she says.
Zoya says the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance is responsible for 50 thousand civilian deaths between 1992 and 1996, and has committed many crimes against women. Now, she says, most Afghan women are still forced to cover themselves by wearing the burka, and an alarming number of women continue to be kidnapped and abused by warlords in power.
Zoya shared her story with U.S. women at a leadership conference in New York. She and other women activists from Afghanistan and Iraq are urging American women to fight for sustainable freedom for women abroad. "We are not liberated and we still wanted the solidarity of all the people around the world with us, and especially the women around the world. That is why this conference was very important for us. To bring again the situation of women in Afghanistan to the media and the attention of the world," she says.
Zoya is not the only one who says the spread of Islamic fundamentalism is preventing equal rights for women in the region.
Afghan member of parliament Malalai Joya knows that being outspoken in the fight for women's rights comes at a price. Ever since she gave a speech in parliament at the end of last year criticizing Afghan warlords for their abuses against women, she has had to hide her whereabouts and always travels with bodyguards. Her purpose in coming to New York, she says, is to ask American women for solidarity. "They can help us and they can do something for their painful sisters in Afghanistan and please do not forget about us," she says.
Ms. Joya says fair treatment of women can only be achieved if the international community sustains the battle for women's equality, long after the major military incursions are over.