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10. March 2008

Women´s centre Nimruz © FoG

Afghanistan’s Women: of Courage and Desperation

A commentary by Edit Schlaffer (Kleine Zeitung, March 8th 2008)

International Women’s Day is a moment in time in which the world honors the achievements of courageous women, celebrates their successes, and denounces the breach of their human rights. Today, Afghanistan’s women have little reason to celebrate; but just a few years ago it was a different story. They had emphatically revived the terms “resistance” and “underground.”
They fought against the powerful and brutal Taliban regime in their own way – not with weapons, but with words. Average, usually illiterate women summoned up the courage to combat oppression and injustice, personally and immediately.

With determined resolve they stood up to a fundamentalist society that was utterly contemptuous of women. Under extreme conditions and despite the ban against educating girls, they ensured that young women were taught secretly in private homes by brave individuals. Female doctors and midwives – who were dismissed from hospitals because women were not to receive further medical care – attempted to continue practicing in underground networks.

Education is our only weapon,” stated es Shala, one of the courageous activists of this era. These women formed a resistance, a women’s underground movement against a brutal, repressive aggressor. They began from an unimaginable starting point: a literacy rate of seven percent; a culture that depreciated and discouraged women from birth on; an environment that not only wholly confined them, but also allowed them to be followed, humiliated, beaten, or even killed.

When the news of the Taliban’s assaults on women leaked to the outside world, a worldwide women’s alliance was formed. Female politicians in the West gave speeches, female singers organized benefit concerts, and female journalists wrote articles – all carried out because of a determination to fight a tyrannical regime together with Afghani women. In retrospect, the scenes which played out in the streets of Kabul after the Taliban’s retreat appear symbolic and indicative of the future. The men danced freely - what liberation! - because music was no longer banned. They immediately shaved off the long beards they had been required to wear by the Taliban, while the women watched the goings-on under the protection of their burkas. Many of them continued to wear their coverings with the netted eye slit even in free Afghanistan. But much seemed to improve; schools were built, elections were prepared, and a ministry for women was immediately created.

And how is life for Afghani women today?
It was this critical question that cost Malalai Joya, an active member of parliament, her job. Her passport has now been revoked. In an emotional article published in an English daily, she made an appeal to the world to not forget Afghanistan and its women. Last year, more women than ever before committed suicide out of desperation. “Women in Afghanistan are vulnerable; their dying is like the killing of birds,” Joya wrote. Peace and safety was not achieved, and so Afghani women continue to need their allies around the world.


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