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The Guardian (UK), March 7, 2002 Reprinted: The Sydney Morning Herald, March 8, 2002
Burqa still a symbol of fear
By Mariam Rawi in Afghanistan
On November 19, the New York Times ran an article entitled "Behind the Burka", focusing on a 56-year-old woman from Afghanistan who had no schooling, eight children and a dead husband. The piece talked about her "liberation" from the Taliban, and concluded: "Now, at least, she is free to beg."
This is the "liberation" that has reached the women of Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban government. Even in Kabul, where 4000 foreign troops are deployed, women have seen little improvement in their rights since the advent of the interim government.
The West may see the Northern Alliance as an improvement on the Taliban, but Afghan women do not see it that way. In 1992, after members of the Alliance entered Kabul and other cities, it embarked on a spree of murder, rape, plunder and torture, attacking men and women from seven to 70. They killed more than 50,000 people in Kabul alone between 1992 and 1996.
We at RAWA - the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan - believe they have not changed. We are receiving numerous reports of rape, looting and kidnapping from across the country. Those who have proclaimed women's liberation have spoken far too soon.
Widespread fear of the Alliance means few women have discarded their burqas. Hundreds of thousands of school-age girls are unable to attend lessons due to destitution, insecurity, and the fallout of a decade of fundamentalist oppression. We are troubled by the reluctance of the world community to deploy an effective peacekeeping force in Afghanistan which would enable the people to elect a government in an atmosphere free from fundamentalist guns.
If there is no peace and a stable legitimate government, women will never feel free.
The West must realise that Afghans regard the Alliance as much more vile than the Taliban. History must not be repeated. The right to burn a burqa or go to school is not something to be proud of. Afghan girls and women know that these are still a long way from the rights that women of other countries have. They need to fight against the misogynistic and inhuman treatment of women, usually justified in the name of "tradition" or "religion".
Our mothers' lives ended in dark, desperate and painful conditions. We should have enough confidence to change the conditions our mothers lived through - if not for this generation, then at least for the one to come.
Mariam Rawi, a member of RAWA, is writing under a pseudonym.
From: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/women/story/0,3604,663054,00.html>http://www.guardian.co.uk/women/story/0,3604,663054,00.html Reprinted: <http://www.smh.com.au/news/0203/09/world/world4.html>http://www.smh.com.au/news/0203/09/world/world4.html
Free to die Le Monde diplomatique, March 2002
by CHRISTINE DELPHY Sociologist, author of L'Ennemi principal. Penser le genre, Syllepse, Paris, 2001
"The American flag flies again over our embassy in Kabul the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes. Today women are free," thundered President George Bush in his State of the Union address on 29 January. So now we know. The "coalition against terrorism" went to war to liberate Afghan women. After the bombing, when Alliance troops entered Kabul, pictures of smiling women appeared in the press as though that was what the conflict was all about.
Strange reasoning. The mujahedin now restored to power by the allies are no better than the Taliban and reporters on the ground can no longer conceal the distrust felt by the people of Kabul and Jalalabad, a distrust based on experience. Between 1992 and 1996 Northern Alliance/United Front troops were responsible for massacres, for the gratuitous slaughter of wounded and captured men, for terrorising and robbing civilians. Now almost exactly the same thing is happening again. Afghanistan has returned to its tribal state and the warlords are threatening another civil war (1).
The United States doesn't give a damn for women's rights in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or anywhere else. On the contrary, it has knowingly and deliberately sacrificed Afghan women to its own interests. What is the origin of the mujahedin? Back in 1978, even before the Soviet invasion, the tribal chiefs and religious authorities declared a holy war on Nur Mohammed Taraki's Marxist government, which had decreed that girls were to go to school and prohibited the levirat (2) and the sale of women. Never were there so many women doctors, teachers and lawyers as there were between 1978 and 1992. The provisional government formed after the negotiations in Bonn includes two women, both exiles, one belonging to the Hizb-i-Wahdat or Islamic Unity Party and the other to the Parchami faction of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) accuses both of being parties of mercenaries and murderers. RAWA itself has been working with women refugees for six years, in particular to promote the education of girls. It opposed the Taliban but has nonetheless been loud in its condemnation of the bombing. It has joined other organisations in asking for an international force to protect the Afghan people against the "criminals of the Northern Alliance".
For the mujahedin, women's rights were well worth fighting against. The Soviet invasion added a patriotic dimension and the US lent its support on the principle that its enemy's enemies were its friends. The Americans knew the mujahedin wanted to bring women to heel, but they were willing allies against Moscow and that was what mattered.
The war continued after the Russians left - especially the war against the civilian population. Northern Alliance troops ransacked their homes and raped their women. Local chiefs stopped trucks every 50 kilometres and demanded money, and the corruption and chaos made it impossible to enforce sharia law. The ground was well prepared for the arrival of the Taliban, spiritual heirs to the mujahedin. They were equally anti-Communist and even more fundamentalist, and worthy candidates for aid from the US, which channelled money through Saudi Arabia into the madrasas (mosque schools) in Pakistan.
Has the US always fought for women's rights? No. Has it ever? No. On the contrary, it has trampled on them. Afghan women were defended by Marxist governments, and they were the friends of the US' enemy, so the women had to go to the wall. After all, human rights cannot be allowed to interfere with the pursuit of world domination. Women's rights are like Iraqi babies. Their death is the price paid for US power.
I campaigned for more than two years against the Taliban's treatment of Afghan women and, like feminists everywhere, I hope the present government will guarantee human rights for women. An improvement in their status could be one of the unexpected results of this war, a collateral bonus as it were. It is to be hoped so, but we must be realistic. Burhanuddin Rabbani, president of the government now recognised by the international community, belongs to Jamiat-i-Islami, the Islamic party that imposed sharia law in Kabul in 1992, the party whose troops under General Shah Masoud engaged in an orgy of rape and murder in 1995.
The provisional government formed after the negotiations in Bonn includes two women, both exiles, one belonging to the Hizb-i-Wahdat or Islamic Unity Party and the other to the Parchami faction of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) accuses both of being parties of mercenaries and murderers. RAWA itself has been working with women refugees for six years, in particular to promote the education of girls. It opposed the Taliban but has nonetheless been loud in its condemnation of the bombing. It has joined other organisations in asking for an international force to protect the Afghan people against the "criminals of the Northern Alliance" (3).
'The hejab will suffice'
Jamiat-i-Islami has made some concessions under international pressure. Judge them for yourselves. A week after the capture of Kabul, one of its spokesmen announced on BBC World - without going into detail - that the "restrictions" on women would be lifted and "the burqa would no longer be compulsory. The hejab would suffice". The hejab (or chador) would suffice. Can they be serious?
Even if a greater measure of freedom were to be won, would that make the war right? When it comes to human rights, the question is whether anything can be worse than war. At what point does war become the best option? To say that the war may be good for Afghan women is almost to say that it is better for them to die in the bombing, cold or starvation than to live under the Taliban. The West has decided that death is preferable to slavery - for Afghan women. This would be a truly heroic decision if Western lives, not those of Afghan women, were in the balance.
The cynical way in which the "liberation of Afghan women" has been used as a pretext shows the arrogance of the west in assuming the right to do as it will with the lives of others. That arrogance informs the Western attitude towards Afghan women and the attitude of rulers to their subjects.
Let us propose a simple rule of international, and individual, conduct: no one shall have the right to take decisions, especially heroic decisions, when others have to suffer the consequences. Only those who pay the price of war can say whether it is worth it. In this case, those who decided on war are not paying the price and those who are paying the price had no part in the decision. At present the women of Afghanistan are on the road, living in tents or camps, in their millions. There are a million more refugees outside the country than there were before the war and a million displaced persons in the country itself (4). Many may die and there is no guarantee that their sacrifice will win them any additional rights. Is it, in any case, proper to speak of sacrifice when they had no choice?
The allies should, in common decency, stop proclaiming that these women are being forced to endure all this suffering for their own good, and pretending that they are being denied the right to decide their own fate, even the right to live, in the name of freedom. But there is reason to fear that this theme is a real hit. There is a long list of countries to which the coalition against evil has vowed to bring good. And of course, any resemblance to past history (events too remote to mention) or colonial wars is pure coincidence.
Wars waged for purposes of control and exploitation will never advance human rights. This bombing in the name of civilisation has also consigned to oblivion many of the principles on which that civilisation prides itself. The allies, complicit first in the slaughter of Mazar-i-Sharif and other crimes (5) and now in the US manoeuvres, have disregarded the Geneva Conventions. The US is inventing new pseudo -legal categories, such as the "unlawful combatants" of Guantanamo Bay, who are not covered by any form of law - national or international, common law or the rules of war. The freedom of the individual, pride of our democracies, is a dead letter, international law mortally wounded, the great body of the United Nations in its death throes. Only genuine and peaceful cooperation between nations will advance human rights and that is not on the agenda. It is up to us to put it there.
(1) At the end of January, forces loyal to the governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha Sharzai, were preparing to challenge warlord Ismal Khan for control of Herat, according to the governor's intelligence chief, Haji Gullalai, Globe and Mail, Toronto, 22 January 2002.
(2) The rule requiring a childless widow to marry her deceased husband's brother.
(3) See www.rawa.org, 10 December 2001.
(4) See the Human and Civil Rights Organisations' and Medecins sans frontieres' websites: www.hcr.org and www.msf.org.
(5) Robert Fisk, "We are the war criminals now", The Independent, London, 29 November 2001. See also the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International websites: www.hrw.org and www.amnesty.org.
Translated by Barbara Wilson
===================================================== Some of the opinions expressed within articles sent to our list, may not necessarily be that of RAWA. ===================================================== Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) Mailing Address: RAWA, P.O.Box 374, Quetta, Pakistan Mobile: 0092-300-8551638 Fax: 001-760-2819855 E-mails: <mailto:[email protected]>[email protected], <mailto:[email protected]>[email protected] Home Page: <http://www.rawa.org>http://www.rawa.org Mirror site: <http://rawa.fancymarketing.net>http://rawa.fancymarketing.net
The Washington Post, March 28, 2002; Page C01
Afghanistan's Hidden Struggle
'Zoya's Story' by Zoya with John Follain and Rita Cristofari and 'My Forbidden Face' by Latifa with Shekeba Hachemi
By Jonathan Yardley, whose e-mail address is [email protected]
ZOYA'S STORY An Afghan Woman's Battle for Freedom By Zoya with John Follain and Rita Cristofari Morrow. 239 pp. $24.95
MY FORBIDDEN FACE Growing Up Under the Taliban: A Young Woman's Story By Latifa with Shekeba Hachemi Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale Talk Miramax. 210 pp. $21.95
VEILED COURAGE Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance By Cheryl Benard with Edit Schlaffer Broadway Books. 293 pp. $23.95
Within what seemed only hours of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, once it had become apparent that they were acts of terrorism carried out by al Qaeda, and that the Taliban in Afghanistan was in effect a co-conspirator, an extraordinary documentary called "Behind the Veil" was shown to television viewers around the world. A joint undertaking of CNN and the BBC, filmed and narrated by a young British journalist named Saira Shah, it revealed in sickening, heartbreaking detail the Taliban's brutality and indifference to human rights.
The film also revealed what until then few people had known: that the women of Afghanistan were engaged in a determined, resourceful and surpassingly courageous underground resistance against the Taliban. That Saira Shah herself had gone into Afghanistan undercover was an act of no small courage -- she was born in England to Afghan parents and had never visited her ancestral homeland -- but as she no doubt would be the first to say, it is the courage of the women actually carrying on the resistance that commands our greatest respect.
These three books tell the stories of many of them. "Zoya's Story" and "My Forbidden Face" are first-person narratives by young Afghan women -- both Zoya and Latifa are in their early twenties -- while "Veiled Courage" (to be released next month) is a broader examination of the work being undertaken by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) that includes many interviews with women who tell, in brief, their life stories. Perhaps in some measure because it was the first of the three that I read, "Zoya's Story" made the deepest impression upon me, but all three are invaluable to our understanding of Afghanistan and the incredible challenges it faces in overcoming the devastation inflicted upon it by the Taliban.
The stories of the women of Afghanistan are at once individually dramatic and collectively numbing. The details are different, but the broad plot outlines are the same. They begin with the long war against Russia and the rise of the fundamentalist mujaheddin, darken with the Russian retreat and the bloody rise of the Taliban, then turn almost unimaginably bleak as the Taliban mandates its rigid absurdities and begins its ghastly crimes, enumerated in part by Zoya as "the stonings to death, the public hangings, the amputations of men accused of theft, at which teenagers were given the job of displaying the severed limbs to the spectators, the torturing of victims who had fuel poured on them before being set alight, the mass graves the Taliban forces left in their wake."
There can hardly be a family in Afghanistan that went unscathed by the Taliban's hand. Latifa proudly notes that "Papa is a Pashtun, and Mama is a Tajik, and they've stayed together, just as our country has in the face of wars and fratricidal ethnic strife," but to survive they hid for half a decade and finally had to escape to France. Zoya wasn't so lucky. Her mother, an early RAWA activist, and her father, who was also involved in fighting fundamentalism, simply disappeared about a decade ago, when she was a young teenager, "killed on the orders of the fundamentalist Mujahideen warlords, like thousands of other people." Her life was forever changed:
"I felt that I had lost everything. I could still picture before me the smiles on my parents' faces, and the way they would look at me with tenderness and love. I wished I could have spent longer, much longer, looking into their eyes the last time I saw them. . . . One night soon after their disappearance, I swore that I would avenge them, not only my parents but all those people who had been killed without anyone knowing where, how, or why they had died. I would not avenge them with a Kalashnikov but by fighting for the same cause Mother had fought for."
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060097825/qid=1017390887/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_67_1/102-5615333-2350519> Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Battle for Freedom by Zoya with John Follain and Rita Cristofari
Zoya managed to escape with her beloved grandmother to Pakistan, but she became active in RAWA and remains so to this day: "It was the most important part of my life, more than anything or anyone else -- more important, even, than Grandmother." It is a level of passion and commitment that RAWA inspires in many others, not merely those who work within it but also those who observe and support it from without. "When you think about it," writes Cheryl Benard in "Veiled Courage," "the sheer existence of RAWA is a political implausibility. How could the most backward country in the world have produced one of the most daring women's movements in the world?" But in contrasting RAWA and al Qaeda, she provides a plausible answer:
"RAWA, in a sense, had grown on the same soil. As the same garden can produce lethal digitalis and benign achillaea, RAWA was a kind of mirror movement to al-Qaeda. From the global ideology mix, they had picked democracy and equality; al-Qaeda had drawn anti-Westernism and authoritarianism. From their joint cultural background of gender segregation, RAWA had retained the inclination of women to comfort each other and used that to form operating units composed of small groups of women, but the organization was very inclusive of men. Al-Qaeda took the same background to extreme lengths, forming a pathologically anti-woman, ultramale cadre."
That RAWA enjoys considerable support among Afghanistan's male population is little understood on the outside, where it is commonly assumed -- as Benard herself assumed until she began to visit Afghanistan -- that the Taliban's attitude toward women is shared by most Afghan men. Instead she found that many of them support RAWA in a variety of ways that include "vague sympathy for the goal of equality, the occasional friendly attendance at a RAWA event, help in distributing their magazine and publications, selling the products of their workshops in their stores, even direct participation in RAWA's underground work."
This impression is confirmed in both Zoya's and Latifa's narratives. But all three books are also pessimistic about the return of the Northern Alliance and the warlords. "We all knew that although they now spoke of democracy, elections and even women's rights," Zoya writes, "the Northern Alliance leaders who had taken power had blood on their hands," and she strikes what this country should take -- and take seriously -- as a note of warning:
"Whatever their promises, I do not believe that the Northern Alliance will bring peace and democracy to my country. The only goal of each faction is to have power for itself, and none of them are ready to share it. A civil war is the most likely outcome. Only a United Nations force could end the wars in my country, by disarming all the warlords and overseeing free elections. And only a democratic and secular government could guarantee human rights, including women's rights."
<http://rawa.fancymarketing.net/usatoday.htm>Review on "Zoya's Story" in The USA Today
[<http://www.rawa.org/index.html>Home] [<http://rawa.fancymarketing.net/media.htm>RAWA in the Media]
CORRESPONDENT: SILENT SCREAM Sunday 7th April 2002 BBC2 at 1915GMT
The war in Afghanistan has been a man's war. Women have been absent and silent. Correspondent gives them voice and puts them on film.
For the first time, this documentary tells the extraordinary story of the resistance, rebellion and struggle waged by the women of Afghanistan.
Nobody heard the voice of Afghan women, she's the woman who has lost everything, For me, Afghan woman is not alive, she's like a dead moving body. RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan)
When America bombed Afghanistan, they also dropped flyers with a picture. It showed a woman being beaten. Afghan women's rights were suddenly important and were to become a useful weapon in the international propaganda war against the Taliban. The image the US military used was captured on camera by RAWA, one of the most radical women's movements to emerge from the Muslim world. Despite their uncompromising condemnation of US military action in Afghanistan, RAWA's most significant support comes from the world's most privileged women, those in America.
Our incredible expedient selfish foreign policy where we support anyone who serves our current interest.. we created Bin Laden, we created those regimes and then we're surprised, oh, how did it happen? I felt shame as an American, I felt enormous guilt. I came back from Afghanistan and I was insane. Eve Ensler, Established V-Day (Violence Against Women) & Vagina Monologues
The film unveils the poignant personal testimonies of Afghan women who have survived 23 years of relentless war, betrayal by their own countrymen and the ruthless gender apartheid designed to erase them from public view. They reveal how the cloak of uniformity forced upon them, became their secret armour, from which they now emerge as survivors telling their own story in their own words.
They include mothers, who planned their own deaths as they saved their children; widows, who watched their husbands murdered; doctors, who faced beatings as they treated victims of war and activists like RAWA, their leader was assassinated but they continued to risk their own lives as they documented crimes against women.
As the debate on Afghan women and their plight, their representation, their fight for inclusion continues, we hear from the women themselves, the refugees in Pakistan, the exiles in America and those that remained in Afghanistan.
Kabul may be liberated but the women of Afghanistan remain veiled. They continue to watch warily as the war unfolds, still observers not participants in their own destiny. This is their story.
Background: Produced and Directed by the award winning film-maker Zab Chughtai.
Zab's credits include:
- 'Heart of Darkness' (BBC/Discovery - Emmy nominated) charting the rise in hate crimes and white supremacy groups in America. - 'The Koran And The Kalashnikov' (BBC1 - EMMA award for Best Documentary 2000) the story of Bin Laden and his global Jihad movement. - 'Behind The Terror' (Discovery) transmitted a week after September 11th exploring the events leading to the attack on America.
Shorter edits of the Correspondent programme are also shown on BBC World and BBC News 24, which you may be able to get in the States on cable or satellite.
The BBC web page about this specific documentary: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/audiovideo/programmes/correspondent/newsid_1899000/1899783.stm>http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/audiovideo/programmes/correspondent/newsid_1899000/1899783.stm
[<http://www.rawa.org/index.html>Home] [<http://www.rawa.org/media.htm>RAWA in the Media]
Message: 1 Date: Sun, 21 Oct 2001 22:31:46 -0700 From: "K.J. Vickery" <[email protected]> Subject: Re: Digest Number 637
Dear List Members,
I've been requested by Alicia and others to send my thesis, Malalai's Daughters: Afghan Women Fighting for Rights and Future, so I thought I would just start posting portions to all. It is from three years of work. The following is a summary.
Please note a few courtesies: I will be publishing this, so please do not take any portion of this material, including phrasing, for use in your own writing, and do not quote w/o proper identification. Thanks.
You will note that the first Afghan women killed at the hands of the Taliban was for murder of a man, not for adultery, as is often misspoken. The AP and other press agencies covered the event and the women killed, Zarmeena, was shot at point blank range for murdering her husband with an ax (some say while he slept), after he had brutally abused her and her children. The guards at her side were Talib police women, not her family members as is reported in the CNN presents video. Okay, enough details...please enjoy the read.
K.J. Vickery, USC [email protected]
Dead Woman Walking
The dry earth defies gravity as monster trucks, sport utility vehicles and good-old-boy trucks speed into the open-air stadium. Hunting spotlights mounted on the cabs reflect the bright mid-day sun. Thirty thousand fans cheer as the jacked-up, high-end Toyotas circle the field. Drivers blast their horns. Concessionaires peddle snacks. Mothers wrangle children into their seats; men stand in groups, smiling and patting each other on the back. The excited voices of children bounce off the stadium,s walls. The air is thick with anticipation. A man walks officially to microphones set up at center field. He calls the crowd to order, but instead of singing the "Star Spangled Banner, he chants an Islamic prayer about the greatness of God. A closer look at the crowd reveals shapeless women covered in colorful burqas (a heavy, head-to-toe veil that affords three inches of mesh fabric through which to see and breathe) and long-bearded men in white turbans. Emaciated children in genderless, loose pajamas squirm on the crude seats. Pubescent boys sporting Klashnikov rifles litter the field. The people are not at Kabul,s Olympic Stadium to participate in games. Games are outlawed in Afghanistan, as are movies, singing, television, laughter, music, kite flying and the Internet. A shiny, new truck with the words "PICK UP emblazoned on the side enters the field. Three women clad in periwinkle blue burqa sit in the vehicle,s bed. Two are agents of the Taliban, the extreme Islamic fundamentalist militia ruling 90 percent of Afghanistan. The other woman is a convicted felon known only as Zarmeena. A young soldier walks up to the truck and escorts the women to center field. Zarmeena is forced to kneel with her hands behind her. By now, the Supreme Court Chief, Hajj Moulowee Hazrat Mohammed Haqqani, is at the microphones delivering a rousing speech about the evils of the West and the purity of the Taliban,s Islamic law. The diatribe spewing from his mouth is an unnerving reminder of another speech given in an Olympic stadium in Berlin in the year 1936. Zarmeena clumsily struggles to her feet, steps on her burqa and begins to fall. The female guards force her to kneel. The speaker stops. A nanosecond of silence flashes over the crowd. The soldier, covered in what appears to be a white sheet, raises his Soviet rifle to Zarmeena,s head. Three shots are fired at point-blank range, but they are barely heard under the crushing surge of opposing screams for mercy and cheers of "GOD IS GREAT. Zarmeena,s motionless body lies flat on the soccer field. The Talib soldier pokes her with his rifle. He stops, satisfied that Zarmeena is dead. Impatient to know the outcome, hundreds of citizens crowd around her body. The female guards, whose white shoes are a symbol of their allegiance to the Taliban, adjust Zarmeena,s burqa, mindful to cover her exposed pant legs. One woman pushing her children in front of her impatiently says, "This is the first time a woman has been killed. I want to see. Zarmeena was the first Afghan woman to be publicly executed by the Taliban for the crime of killing a man, though she was not the first woman to die at their hands. Reportedly, after days of being abused by her husband, Zarmeena grabbed an ax, raised it above her head and using all her strength brought the metal blade down on him again and again until he stopped. Far from ending the pain, her defensive action led to the scattering of her children and the ending of her life. Some would argue she was already a dead woman walking, living under the control of an abusive husband in a land ruled by misogynists. Zarmeena became a prisoner in her home years earlier when Taliban edicts were laid out for the residents of Kabul and the remainder of the country under the militia,s rule. Perhaps the cruelest requires women to stay hidden away in homes unless their "legal escort, or Mahram -- a son, father, brother, or husband -- chooses to accompany them outside, even to their garden. The burqa is required of all women (and girls over age 12) in public, regardless of personal or family beliefs. In public, females may neither speak to shopkeepers nor make noise with their shoes. Even inside her home, a woman may not be seen. The home,s windows must be painted opaque so passing men will not be tempted to "evil. Work for women came to a screeching halt when the Taliban ascended to power. So did education. Even a woman,s access to medical care became limited to that which she can receive from female doctors and nurses, who in turn are not allowed to practice because of their gender. Healthcare is a "catch 22 for over half the population of Afghanistan, a group of 11 1/2 million women and girls.
Women are not simply discriminated against. It is worse than that. They have been brutalized and made invisible by edicts inflicted on them simply for being women. " Theresa Loar, US State Department, 1998
The list of edicts is extensive. The result is catastrophic. For war widows and families without a Mahram, life is impossible. The widowed women (over 50,000 in Kabul alone) cannot legally leave their home, even to buy bread. Some risk death or imprisonment to simply walk to the store, others send their children out to collect decaying food from the city,s dumping grounds. Many women who cannot afford the cost of a burqa share one with the entire neighborhood, allowing only one woman out of her home at a time. Covert prostitution and begging have dramatically increased. Women sit stoically like ghosts on the sidewalks while their young Mahrams line the streets hopeful to earn a few Afghanis (Afghan currency) selling their remaining household possessions. While the Taliban claim to have implemented the purest form of Islam, their soldiers kidnap women, boys and girls off the streets and turn them into sexual laborers in pimp houses or sell them in the flesh trade. Women, who formerly functioned in society as government aids, scientists, lawyers and artists, feel useless and depressed. Suicide by ingesting toxic household cleaners has become a common, though slow and painful, end to the women,s crisis. The Taliban,s religious laws put the existence of Zarmeena and her Afghan sisters at the mercy of men who see them as property, not human beings with inalienable rights. Unlike her Western counterparts, who rightly claim self-defense for protecting themselves and their children from abusive spouses, Zarmeena had no such option. She was convicted in a Shari, at (a form of law developed in the second century of Islam) court without a defense attorney, and sentenced by a mullah, a religious leader who received his training in a seminary instead of a law school. If she had been allowed to speak in court, it would have carried only one-half the weight of a man,s testimony. Interestingly, Zarmeena was forgiven by her husband,s family days before the execution. According to Islamic law, a woman must not be executed if the family of the victim has forgiven her. She should have been released. The Taliban had already announced the event however, and refused to obey the very laws they claim to defend.
Women are beaten publicly and public lashings of women are held on Fridays, mainly for violations of the ministry,s edicts. " Radhika Coomarswamy, UN Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women, 1999
Zarmeena,s execution was only one of the many public punishments of women doled out by the Taliban. In the cities of Kabul, Herat and Kandahar, the public spectacles are held on Fridays after prayer. In Zarmeena,s case, the Taliban decided she was too sinful to be executed on a holy day. They ended her life on a Thursday instead. Announcements for the brutal events are made on loudspeakers in the bazaars and on Voice of Shari,at, the Taliban,s principal communication tool. Soldiers round up locals (commonly men and children), but many come without force. Tariq Jamal Khattak, a Pakistani engineer, wrote, "We ourselves came across a stadium where a public execution was about to take place. The stadium was jam-packed with people...a man and a woman were about to be stoned to death [for adultery]...we were invited by the locals to entertain ourselves, by witnessing the ongoing proceedings. A researcher with Physicians for Human Rights observed the public lashing of an 18-year-old girl at the Kabul Olympic Stadium, again packed to capacity. The girl received 100 lashes, enough to kill someone already weakened by hunger and thirst. Her crime? She was accused of a romantic liaison. Another woman was stoned to death for traveling without a legal Mahram. She was accused of adultery. On 16 April 1999, Talibs in monster trucks brought Farzana, a young Afghan woman, and her mother to the Kabul Olympic Stadium to be publicly flogged. The two women were imprisoned in dirty, overcrowded facilities while awaiting the birth of Farzana,s illegitimate baby. One month prior, Farzana,s lover was released from prison to be publicly lashed. If either Farzana or her lover had been married, they would have been stoned to death for the greater crime of adultery. Upon giving birth, the new mother was made an example of what happens to "whores by receiving 100 lashes. The grandmother, accused of raising an immoral daughter, did not survive that many. The Taliban discovered that she had wrapped herself in coats and heavy clothes under her burqa, forced her to remove the protective garments and then continued flogging her with a whip made of leather straps and shards of glass and metal. Her wailing "Oh, God finally came to an end after 39 lashes. On Friday, 14 April 2000, the Taliban executed 26 ethnic Afghans, including women. The new killing field is in the city of Gusfandi, which is northern territory formerly under the control of the United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (a coalition of Mujahideen forces still holding 10 percent of Afghanistan) and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The crime of these people? They were not Pashtuns, the Taliban,s tribe. In addition to the public lashings on Fridays, the Taliban,s police, known as the Department for the Propagation of Virtue and the Elimination of Vice (DPVEV), roam the streets looking for violators of the ministry,s edicts. The stories are horrific: a woman is killed in front of her female students for running a home school; a woman is beaten for taking her critically ill son to hospital; a woman is shot to death for riding a bicycle with her husband. Women have been publicly lashed for exposing an ankle from under their shroud-like veils, or a wrist from under their sleeve. The top of women,s fingers has been cut off because they were wearing nail polish. Women are beaten if the fabric of their burqa is "appealing, or if they wear white, the color of the Taliban,s flag. Women are not allowed to travel in the front seats of vehicles, nor are they allowed to ride in buses without heavy curtains over the windows. Only pre-pubescent boys can collect a woman,s bus fare. She may only ride in a taxi with a Mahram and she must also be in his presence to receive food aid from non-government organizations.
Men also receive punishments from the religious students. If a man trims his beard, he is imprisoned for one month. If a man steals, his right hand and left foot are amputated. If a shopkeeper speaks to a female customer, he is imprisoned indefinitely and his shop is absconded by the militia. If he is accused of homosexuality, he is stoned to death by toppling a wall on him. If he is accused of murdering a man, the family,s male heir shoots him to death in public. Both male and female violators of the DPVEV,s edicts are beaten or stoned to death. Perceived violators receive no less. Taliban Birthing The Taliban, literally "religious students, are an Afghan phenomenon born of cold war hatred, holy war fervor, Soviet deconstruction, Pakistani greediness, Secret Service meddling, and youthful idealism. When the Taliban emerged on the world stage in 1994, they were only 200 strong and were led to victory by a 31-year-old cleric, Mullah Mohammed Omar Akhund, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, the most famous CIA-trained turncoat-terrorist. By late 1999, the Taliban numbered more than 50,000. The impossibility of this rapid expansion in number and power leads government pundits to question the ongoing influence of the CIA, the six nation states surrounding Afghanistan and the military elite and ISI (secret service) of Pakistan in the Taliban,s development. "The Taliban are a criminal gang " Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, UN Security Council, April 2000
The history of the Taliban starts earlier, with a pregnant moment for the United States, foreign policy. In 1978, a full six months before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, United Nations Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA director Stansfield Turner advised President Carter that the expansion of the red menace into the kingdom of Afghanistan would "give the Soviet,s their Vietnam. What happened next was the second largest covert operation in the history of the United States (the first was WWII), with a price tag of US$2 billion. Another important moment in the Taliban,s upbringing was 28 April 1992, the "Blackest Day of Afghanistan, when the nation officially became an Islamic state under now-exiled President Burhanuddin Rabbani, a leader of one of seven Mujahideen "soldier of Islam factions backed by Pakistan and the United States (there is also one group from Iran) before the Taliban emerged: The Pakistan, Sunni Muslims, groups are the Jamiat-e Islami led by Rabbani and the late Massoud; Hezb-e Islami led by Hekmetyer, the Junbish-e Islami led by Dostum, the Harakat-e Islami led by Anwari; the Ittehad-e Islami led by Sayyaf, the Jamaat-e Islami led by Ahmad, the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen a pan-Muslimism group with no direct leader; the various Iranian, Shi,a Muslim, groups came under the leadership of Khalili and formed into one party, the Hezb-e Wahdat Islami. Peace did not return to Afghanistan in 1992. Rabbani and his military commander, Massoud, wanted to be peacemakers, according positions of power to the leaders of the mujahideen factions. Gulbideen Hekmetyer was selected as Prime Minister, but instead he threw accusations at the legitimacy of Rabbani,s government and 2000 bombs a night at the city of Kabul. Massive shelling plunged the capital into the dark ages and excessive landmines created a population of amputees and cripples. The first victory for the Taliban came in 1994, when their zealots liberated Kandahar, a city in the southeastern portion of Afghanistan well known as the home of bin Laden,s terrorist network "The Base. They have been entrenched in Kandahar ever since. Following the takeover of Kandahar, Mullah Omar Akhund, now officially Amir ul-Momineen (Commander of the Faithful), issued edicts forbidding women in this city from work and education. A veil uncommon in urban communities and some rural areas was enforced with brutality on the emancipated women. Despite the openly demonstrated draconian measures, the world press and governments supported the Taliban as the solution to the region,s political crisis. One year later, the Taliban conquered Herat, Afghanistan,s second largest city, which is located along the northwestern border with Iran. Legend says Rabbani,s men (Hekmetyer,s former men) gave the Taliban Herat without a fight. In September of 1996, the militia seized control of Kabul, Afghanistan,s capital city. Rabbani and his troops immediately sought security in the northern provinces in and around the Hindu Kush Mountains directly to the north of Kabul. The destructive civil war between Taliban and anti-Taliban forces has run almost a decade; there appears to be no end in sight. Both sides of the civil war have committed human rights violations beyond comprehension: civilian massacres, enslavement of women and children, scorched earth sprees " all reminiscent of the Serbian campaign against Muslim Bosnians.
Questionable Policies The policies of the Taliban have served to distance them from even their most ardent supporters. In Saudi Arabia, women,s freedom of movement is somewhat limited, though they can now drive a car, and they are required to wear hijab (a dress code including a long black coat, gloves, socks and a scarf over the head and lower face), but access to education through the tenth grade is considered a right of all Saudis, whether male or female. Pakistan, women are encouraged to wear a chadari (a dress code including a long coat and a head scarf), but again, education is encouraged. The achievement of an education is considered a fulfillment of the Qu,ran in most Islamic cultures. Only the Taliban and the Mujahideen forces hate education. Women and girls may not attend public schools, nor are they allowed to learn in private. A few "authorized schools for girls appear like a mirage for Western camera crews and visiting dignitaries. Unfortunately, the schools disappear as quickly as their visitors. In both private and public schools, Afghan boys are not allowed to learn about science, computers, English and mathematics " all "evil subjects according to the Taliban. Funding Terrorism The debate over who finances the Taliban is huge; the answer may reveal how to curtail their human rights violations or even how to replace the puritanical rulers with a democratic, elected government. The country,s GNP is US$200 per year. Taxes on such minuscule income would not pay for the Taliban,s bullets, let alone pay for their new Toyota trucks. Some of their money comes from bin Laden,s personal wealth, estimated at over US$5 billion. Others, such as Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), theorize that the CIA is secretly funding the Taliban. Rohrabacher has been requesting government records through the Freedom of Information Act since December of 1998. Even though the State Department said in session that these records would be released to the Congressman, the promise has never been fulfilled. The whole issue of CIA involvement remains as veiled as Afghan women. One well-documented source of funding is the Taliban,s 10-percent tax on poppy fields, and US$55-per-kilogram of opium tax on processing factories. The UN International Drug Control Program,s "1999 Opium Survey reports that 75 percent of the world,s raw opium comes from Afghanistan. To put that figure in perspective, this equals 90 percent of Europe,s illegal drugs. The UN estimates the 1999 poppy crop at a record 5,000 tons, more than double the 2,300 tons produced the previous year. A third source of funding comes from a gas and oil pipeline proposed by the United States, Russia and other countries strapped for a cheaper, more readily available source of energy than what is found in the Persian Gulf. The gas crisis of the East Coast this winter and the expensive prices at the gas pump have US citizens up in arms. Local broadcasts in Los Angeles proposed gas strikes in April, creating a "No-Fill Day to protest the outrageous, two-dollars-per-gallon pump price. Chicago followed suit in May when the cost of no-lead gasoline rose to almost fifty-cents-more-per-gallon than the rest of the nation. The gas and oil pipeline will bypass Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq completely, running instead through Afghanistan and former Soviet states into the Caspian Sea. This arrangement represents lowered prices for Americans and millions in revenue for whatever government is in control of Afghanistan. Until the State Department releases government records, the rest is a matter of speculation, research and out-right guesses.
If the women,s movement is to mean anything and the United Nations (Universal) Declaration of Human Rights is to mean everything, we cannot rest while these horrific conditions of gender apartheid exist. We must free the women and girls of Afghanistan. " Eleanor Smeal, President, Feminist Majority Foundation, March 1999
Controversy Brewing My involvement started off simply enough
with the receipt of a mass-posted email message in December of
1998 from Sarah, a student at Brandeis College. She wrote about
the plight of Afghan women in a message entitled the "Taliban,s
War on Women. I was enraged; hundreds of thousands of people felt
the same . Sarah had no idea how widely popular her plea for signatures
to send to the United Nations would become. The email message
is still circling the globe. Sadly, the college shut down her
account for improper use, which effectively aborted the petition.
Nevertheless, this action failed to dampen the spark Sarah ignited.
I started researching the story she described. The reports I found
were generally accounts of the ongoing war between the Taliban
and the United Front for the remaining 10 percent of the landlocked
country, with a few stories about Afghan women. I attended the
Feminist Majority Foundation,s "11 1/2 Million Waiting To
Be Freed media event held in Los Angeles on 29 March 1999 and
compiled documentary research on the condition and treatment of
women. I thought I knew the whole story: oppressive edicts banning
women from the work force and medical facilities, barbaric punishments
for minor infractions of an ancient dress-code, questionable religious
reasoning for an end to female education. That was the story,
right? Certainly, many reports coming out of Afghanistan are verifiable
accounts. The women and girls have suffered greatly for simply
being born female in a fiercely patriarchal society governed by
strict fundamentalists. What I discovered was that while most
reports exposing the Taliban,s offenses were true, many were not
accurate. The real story proved to be much more complex than the
black-and-white coverage reported and espoused. It would take
extensive research and interviews to mine some nuggets of pure
information. For example, it is true that one of the Taliban,s
edicts requires women to wear the burqa; it is not accurate, however,
to say that this practice started with the Taliban. The concept
of hejab, a dress code for women that emphasizes modesty, goes
back to the birth of the Islamic faith in the seventh century.
This code enforces the veil, although the physical description
of that veil varies greatly. I interviewed Afghan-American women
in 1997 who told me the burqa was a foreign import imposed on
Afghan women by the Taliban. The Feminist Majority Foundation
listened to these same women and adopted the burqa as a symbol
of the oppression of Afghan women. No doubt, this campaign raised
awareness. However, my search in dusty archives and in many, many
interviews punched a serious hole in the claim that Afghan women
never wore the burqa before the Taliban,s ascension to power.
As is seen in this picture from 1986, Afghan women wore the burqa,
even when their Soviet Overlords encouraged women to wear modern
clothing. So, why mislead people about the burqa? The easy answer
is that "I had 10 seconds to outrage the American public,
according to Ms. Leno. According to the director of a Washington
think tank, another possibility is "Afghan-American women
who deny the existence of the burqa are totally ignorant of their
history. The elite status of the Afghan women who escaped the
Soviet invasion of 1979 and now live in the United States and
Europe renders them virtually blind to the reality of average
and economically disadvantaged Afghans. What is the history of
the burqa? The burqa was a cultural indicator for some of the
twelve groups that are now called Afghans. As with all traditions
assimilating Islamic belief, the end result was a blend of both
pre-Islamic and Islamic customs. The burqa, actually known in
Afghanistan as a chadari "veil, functioned as an equalizer
among classes and a protector of men,s property. The more common
chador "scarf was preferred for its ease and functionality.
The big shake-up came in 1959, when King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan
asked his wife to appear at a social function in Western dress.
The Queen and her court agreed. The uncovered women shocked the
nation. Prime Minister Daoud Khan, the King,s cousin, joined forces
that day with the more conservative elements of Afghanistan and
eventually overthrew the pro-Western King in 1973. In the meantime,
emancipated Afghan women appeared in public without the burqa,
without even a scarf. School girls and young women wore short
skirts in keeping with the 1960,s fashion; older women donned
chic haircuts and Paris fashion. When President Rabbani came to
power in 1992, he ordered all Afghan women to wear Islamic dress,
which included covering in a full veil that looks like a nun,s
habit or a headscarf with long overcoat that looks like the Iranian
uniform, the chadari
. This was four years before the Taliban,s requirement of a burqa was instituted. Rabbani, who eliminated the Shah,s constitution of 1964 granting women and men equal rights in the areas of education, work and family, is still considered the ruling leader of Afghanistan by the United Nations and most nations of the world. Even if the Taliban are removed from power, it is doubtful that their Islamic State replacement will be much more progressive on women,s rights as human rights.
The burqa, like the plight of Afghan women, is not a black and white, it is much more difficult to determine.
On the occasion of this day set aside for women, I would like to close with a quote from Sajeda Hayat, which sums up the blurred lines of politics and women,s human rights:
As long as there is no democracy [in Afghanistan], human rights
and women,s rights are nothing but a hoax.
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