Logo SAVE - Sisters against violent extremism

04. December 2006

Rajaa al-Khuzai BAWAG © Xenia Hausner

Dr. Rajaa al-Khuzai from Baghdad

Saliha Mehrezad BAWAG © Xenia Hausner

Saliha Mehrezad / Kabul

Reception Iraqi Embassy © Iraqi Embassy

The Iraqi Ambassador in Vienna, H.E. Tariq Aqrawi and his wife Shirin Aqrawi invited us to the Embassy.
f.l.t.r.: Daliya F. Shawkat, Rajaa al-Khuzai, Edit Schlaffer, Shirin Aqrawi, Elisabeth Kasbauer

“The enemy is kind of invisible. But visibly acting”*

In cooperation with the Austrian Foundation for World Population and International Co-operation we organised the event “Targeting Women – Women as Targets” on November 22nd in the BAWAG PSK event centre in Vienna.

Dr. Rajaa al-Khuzai and Daliya F. Shawkat from Baghdad and Saliha Mehrezad and
Huma Naseri took the risk and travelled to Vienna to describe the situation in their countries.

Ulrike Lunacek, member of the National Council, Austrian Green Party foreign affairs spokesperson, co-president of the European Green Party officially opened the conference:
Security policy nearly never takes women’s security interests seriously: domestic violence, rapes, trafficking; education and health care are also female interests as well as an own income and working possibilities or taking care of children and elder people, ill persons or widows.
Taking action and fight for women’s rights in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan demand much more courage than for us here in Austria or women in other parts of Europe.
I am very pleased that such courageous women like Rajaa al-Khuzai and Saliha Mehrezad followed the invitation from Women without Borders and came to Vienna so that we all have the chance to get direct information about their brave dedication in their countries.

“I am not free”

Dr. Rajaa al-Khuzai, doctor, politician and activist studied in London and came back to Iraq in 1977. She was the first female doctor in her hometown Diwania and was the first female head of a women and children hospital. Due to the dramatic situation in her country she founded the Iraqi Widows organisation, which is the only means of existence for a lot of women. Rajaa al-Khuzai is the first woman who established the micro credits system for women. In 2004 she was nominated for the Peace Nobel Prize.

After the regime changed in 2003 we were all really happy. But then things never went in the right way and our dream never turned into reality. We thought that we are going to rebuild our country, that we are going to have a prosperous future for our children, but nothing of these things happened. Terror and violence are ruling our lives.
Since I was appointed by Paul Bremer as member in the Government Council – I was one of three women – I feel that I am at risk. When my colleague Dr. Aqila al-Hasimi was assassinated at her doorstep and the 19 year old son of another woman was murdered I thought that I will be the next.
Women are targets, there is no doubt.
At the beginning I had 6 bodyguards with me all the time, now I have 30. I put my whole family at risk; my husband had to close his clinic. He, my children and I we received and still receive threats and my children never leave our house without bodyguards. I am not free.
I took a step back out of the public life more and more, I even don’t go shopping by myself. You can say that we somehow imprisoned ourselves and we communicate via email if there is power.

But nevertheless we should be optimistic. Life has to go on. Imagine, more than 3000 people leave Iraq every day.
So far we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that we need to keep on moving."

“My mission is to help Iraqi students”

Daliya F. Shawkat is 24 years old and graduated one year ago. She studied pharmacy at Baghdad University. She describes the daily life for the young generation:

I remember how life became more and more dangerous, from day to day, from month to month. Normally it took me about half an hour to go to the college, but in the last year it was two hours or even more. The streets are closed, most of the times because of the car bombs. Most of the time I studies with candle light, without power.
We, the young generation never heard about internet or computer, Saddam didn’t allow it. And now we have to learn it, this is an important step into our future. When I graduated most of the college teachers still lived in Iraq, but now they are targets, most of the were killed or went to other parts of Iraq or in other countries. This is such a sad and tragic development; students have to be without their teachers now. The educated people are not here anymore. It is the same with doctors. The patients in the hospitals now depend on medical students.
My mission is to help Iraqi students. I would like to connect Viennese and Iraqi students, for example through video conferences or internet platforms. This would be a start and a great support as the young people in Iraq could learn from Austria. This is how I would like to help Iraq

Not only in Iraq are women targets for assaults and kidnappings. Also in Afghanistan women who take action for a peaceful and democratic future of their country fear violence.

We invited Saliha Mehrezad, parliamentarian, activist and former school director and Huma Naseri, coordinator of the Women without Borders project in the Nimruz province to Vienna.

A lot of things changed….on the paper

Salliha Mehrezad
was the first woman in the Nimruz who graduated from high school. She worked as a teacher and school director and 2002 and 2003 she was a representative at the Loya Jirga. Today she is working as a parliamentarian and living in Kabul.

Women in Afghanistan don’t have security, they don’t have justice and access to education. Violence is a big problem and as long as we cannot fight poverty we will not have the chance to reduce violence. Many girls get married with 12 or 13 years and get pregnant as teenagers. They don’t have the chance to go to school, can’t get a job and don’t have a just and dignified life. In Kabul the situation is not so dramatic, but in the rural areas the illiteracy rate is very high.
On the paper there are a lot of changes, but not in reality. During the Taliban regime women had to stay at home, they didn’t have any rights. Now we even have written in our constitution that women and men are equal.
It is very important to improve the economic and social standards; only then can women stand on their own feet, only then democracy can become reality and only then women will get their rights. I hope very much that the International Community will not leave Afghanistan alone now, because then we would be again in the hands of our enemies. If the Taliban come back into power, women would be the first targets. Women wouldn’t have a voice any more

I will not give up; I have a lot of plans…

Huma Naseri spent nearly all her life in the exile in Pakistan:

I travelled to Pakistan when I was one year old. I lived there for 20 years and I just came back to Afghanistan two years ago. Afghanistan is such a different world for me. In Pakistan I had everything and so it was quite hard for me in Afghanistan at the beginning. But I knew that I have to stay, above all because I wanted to support the women. I sat together with groups of women and explained them their rights; I told them to take their rights, to tell their husbands what their rights are and to demand them.
Big problems now are the rapes and the situation gets worse from day to day. But as long as we have fundamentalism, as long as warlords have the power, nothing will be changed.
Ok, we have a new constitution, we even have a few democratic parties, but they don´t have a voice, because Taliban and warlords are the leaders.
Every day schools are burned down and parents don’t want to send their children to school anymore. We are living in a situation of insecurity.
But I will not give up, I have a lot of plans and as a strong politician who likes her country I will fight against poverty and lead my country into independence and peace

“It is our role to contribute by carefully watching that women in the process are not sidelined and are not silenced. Women play an important role on the ground. If we want to see stability in those regions, we have to highlight the role of women” (Edit Schlaffer)

We cordially thank our sponsors: BAWAG PSK, Hotel Zipser, Hotel Domizil, Hotel Le Meridien and the embassies of Iraq and Afghanistan in Vienna for their kind invitations.

* Edit Schlaffer

For press reviews click here (in german).


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