THINKING FOR OURSELVES
The Hope In Afghanistan
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, December 28, 2009
Each day the situation in Afghanistan seems to be getting worse. The newly-appointed cabinet of President Hamid Karzai did not inspire cheers from those looking to him to root out corruption. Members of parliament challenged the legality of the appointment process. President Karzai lost no time in rejecting the criticism that some of his appointees face charges of corruption. He said, “If officials have been involved in embezzlement [and/or] bribery, I will wholeheartedly prosecute them. But I don’t have the right to do so.”
Just as disturbing as the corruption and cronyism of the new cabinet is the fact that only one woman, Husn Banu Ghazanfa, was among the 23 appointees. She was nominated as minister of women’s affairs. This continued ignoring of competent women provoked outrage.
Mosoda Jalal, a former minister of women’s affairs and former candidate for president, told Al Jazeera that the nomination of only one woman shows that “the worst enemy of president Karzai is Afghan women political leaders.” She said, “President Karzai can sit and share the political power with human rights violators, with war criminals, war lords, extremists, drug dealers and all those negative elements of Afghanistan society as national and local sources of power, but cannot sit with women.”
Jalal’s outrage brings into focus the hidden truth of Afghanistan. If there is to be any hope for peace and progress in that war-torn land, it will come from the women.
Long before the Taliban came to power, women throughout Afghanistan were mobilizing to make life better for their communities. Prior to control by the Taliban, 50% of the students and 60% of the teachers at Kabul University were women. In addition, 70% of the schoolteachers, 50% of civilian government workers and 40% of the doctors in Kabul were women. Throughout the war with the Soviet Union, women organized schools, provided medical care and assisted in resistance to occupation.
It is fear of the power of women that fuels much of the violence against them. Since 2002 nearly 1,000 schools for girls have been attacked. Just last week a Pakistani primary school for girls in the Khyber district was destroyed. In the Swat Valley more than 130 schools for girls were destroyed this past year by Taliban forces.
In spite of this violence, directed not only at schools but at any and every woman who stands up for a better future, many women in Afghanistan continue to find ways to resist. Women continue to organize schools, to run for office, to organize protests. In the most recent election, in stark contrast to the corruption and intimidation of male politicians, Afghan women organized car pools to get people to the polls, ran for office in the face of death threats and staged public prayers to demand treatment as human beings.
Last spring, on the heels of the unprecedented effort to bring international attention to the reintroduction of Shia law, women secured the passage of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act and created the “5 Million Women Campaign” to encourage women to run as candidates and to vote in the 2009 election.
The current Human Rights Watch report, after documenting the horrific daily conditions of women, says, “The very fact that women defy their culture through pockets of resistance to everyday brutality—from the demonstrations against the Shia law to the prayer gatherings of thousands of women in the heart of Kandahar— is remarkable. The fearless work of many women activists and human rights defenders is the most encouraging prospect for the future of Afghan women and girls. Their work and their safety must be much more assiduously protected. The Afghan government and its main supporters—the U.S., UK, EU and NATO—must make the promotion and protection of women’s rights a key priority, not one to be traded off for short term political gain.”