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Afghan Women Speak Out

Posted on: Thursday, May 21, 2009

Keywords: Afghanistan

Debate over military policy in Afghanistan is a constant feature of US news these days. We've heard a lot from generals, politicians, and pundits, but very little from Afghans themselves.

As the most impoverished and discriminated-against sector of Afghan society, women are especially threatened by this war. Yet we've had particularly few opportunities to listen to and learn from Afghan women. When we do listen, we find that women bring a critical human rights perspective to their understanding of the crisis as well as a commitment to viable peace.  

Below, we have gathered just a brief sampling of the voices of Afghan women, grappling with the challenges confronting their country.

Women have fought for and secured a nominal presence in Afghan political life.  Yet, their voices are routinely suppressed and their impact is muted.  A simple quota in parliament does not address the fundamental inequalities that continue to counteract women’s political participation.

  • Shinkai Karokhel, a woman MP from Kabul province: “Many of the MPs and especially the administrative personnel of the Lower House (parliament) have an undeserving respect for former Jihadi leaders. They can talk for a long time and whenever they want. … Most of the time women don’t even dare say a word about sensitive Islamic issues, because they are afraid of being labeled as blasphemous. These people use Sharia and Islam as an instrument to weaken women’s rights.”

  • Lawmaker Fatima Nazari: “They discriminate against every single female MP. Most of the time, they suffocate our voices.”

Amid the international discussions about the Afghanistan’s future and possible reconciliation, Afghan women fight to promote a vision of inclusion and local participation.

  • Hassina Sherjan, director of Aid Afghanistan for Education: “The only “reconciliation” strategy that is going to work is one between the Kabul government and the Afghan people. The key is making changes at the community level. Many local mullahs and citizens who have tolerated the Taliban in the past are open to working with a government that can protect them and help them find livelihoods. … This is the only way that the reconcilables will be separated from the irreconcilables. We need to understand where Afghanistan’s true moderates are to be found, and not look for them in leadership positions of one of the most repressive organizations on earth.”

In March 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a law that effectively legalized marital rape, mandating that a woman is not allowed to refuse her husband sex.  The law further imposed harsh restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, requiring a husband’s permission to leave the home or seek work.

  • Soraya Sobrang, the head of the women's rights department of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission: “We are concerned that now that the law has been approved, all forms of violence against women and the discrimination that exists against women in Afghanistan become legal.”  She said that Western silence had been “disastrous for women's rights in Afghanistan. What the international community has done is really shameful.

  • Shinkai Karokhel, a woman MP: “It is one of the worst bills passed by the parliament this century. It is totally against women's rights. This law makes women more vulnerable. ... It's about votes. Karzai is in a hurry to appease the Shia because the elections are on the way. ... There are moderate views among the Shia, but unfortunately our MPs, the people who draft the laws, rely on extremists.”

  • Zara, an 18-year-old student protesting the law and confronted by violent and abusive crowds: “I am not afraid. Women have always been oppressed throughout history. This law is against the dignity of women and all the international community opposes it. The US President calls it abhorrent. Don’t you see that actually we are the majority?”

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