International Woman of Courage Award, State Department United States of America
March 9, 2009.
Today is yet another example that the women of Afghanistan want to change their lives and want to raise their voices against inequalities and injustices on them. Yet again we are challenging the stereotypes that the women of Afghanistan are portrayed as “dead and passive and those they can’t participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan”.
The ambition for equality and justice awoke in me when I was almost 12 years of age living in a traditional joint family that believed women shouldn’t be allowed to eat meat because it makes them strong and they will argue and disobey the family.
I started working for women and children 11 years ago when I was only 17 or 18 years of age. The compelling situation of women and children in the refugee camps of Peshawar, Pakistan made me question the inequality of power and access to the basic living needs for any human being. Trying to portray their real life conditions, I wrote in a nationwide newspaper that was published in four big cities of Pakistan on that time and raised the voices of the women and children that weren’t getting the relief aid they were supposed to, because men (who got the relief aid) used to sell them outside homes.
I continued working for refugee women and children in Peshawar Pakistan for almost 4 years through various opportunities and mainly by working with the aid agencies that were supporting women in refugee camps of Peshawar but also had its programs in Afghanistan. I used to travel back and forth to Kabul and other provinces to oversee those projects I run for women, which were mainly education, health and income generation.
During 2001, I came to Afghanistan permanently and continued my work through the first nationwide vulnerability assessment of women in today’s most volatile provinces. Since 2001, I have mainly focused on transferring my experience and expertise to local women organizations so that they are able to raise women’s voices in Afghanistan. I believe that for any strong nation, we need strong civil society. In the past 8 years I worked with more than 60 women organizations around the country, United Nations, national and international NGOs and the government to advocate for the women’s rights in all sectors of the governance and sociopolitical arenas. I have been devising advocacy and lobbying strategies for women activists and women organizations in the country to challenge the patriarchal system and assert their places within that system.
In the past few years, I have tried to bring out those local voices at the regional and international platforms, to influence the international policies on Afghanistan and address women’s issues strategically. Particularly, I have been advocating for women’s active participation in improving the peace and security of the country. As we women bring a perspective to peace which is more than military and police. Based on our experience, we believe security is about going to school, being able to get health services, being able to get justice in no time and many more. A small girl told me in Afghanistan that whenever her mother was badly beaten by her father, he knew that the outside security is bad and my father doesn’t have a work to do.
My current efforts include improving access to justice for the victims of domestic violence through legal aid and defense lawyering for women at risk. I also lead a 35 member advocacy initiative against child/women rapes and sexual abuse. We were able to convince the government and the first vice president created a high commission under his supervision to follow up child rapes cases and bring the perpetrators to justice. I together with other women activists are working on presenting the amendments to the criminal code of the country that does not yet recognize rape but instead punishes the victim for adultery. A child for adultery!
There is no doubt that in the past 8 years, after the formal fall of the Taliban government, the women of Afghanistan made progress which ranges from equality in the constitution, establishment of the ministry of women’s affairs, the 27 % gender quota in the national assembly and growing number of women working at various government and non government sector. However, we still have no woman ( apart from MOWA) in the minister’s cabinet, we are still not part of the peace processes, every 30 minutes one woman dies of maternal complications which 80 % of them are curable. Still today we do not have any defense mechanism for the growing domestic violence, which is 100 % increased and has taken a more lethal shape recently. We are still witnessing almost 7 child rapes on average in a month in one province of the country. This is happening while Afghanistan has already signed CEDAW with no reservations, obliged to report on its progress for the 6 human rights conventions and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and 1820 that makes the government responsible to prevent sexual abuse and rape of women and children.
The international community too hasn’t been able to address women’s needs effectively. They are too influenced by the fallacy that it’s impossible to work on women’s rights in Afghanistan. We have more than 40 countries present in Afghanistan who have their global commitment to women empowerment but that commitment isn’t seen in their aid interventions in Afghanistan. The hard question is that why the world’s global commitment and values aren’t translated into actions of an entirely aid dependant nation.
The worsening situations of women’s lives in Afghanistan aren’t anything separate from the nation’s instability. The more conflict exacerbates, the more violence is practiced on women. Mostly because of lack of law enforcement mechanisms throughout the country. There is a wide misconception about Afghans that they will not follow the law because they are tribal. But no matter in which tribe they are, they seek justice. The main issue is that there is no supply for justice.
I have been constantly advocating for women’s role in peace processes in Afghanistan that would eventually stabilize the country. The women’s participation in the first regional Pakistan Afghanistan Peace Jirga was exemplary of this fact. But still when international community and the state talks about negotiations and reconciliation with those that have massacred women’s existence, there are no women in those discussions.
It’s ironic that those who create the war are invited to make peace. In an armed conflict, they are still trying to arm the local militias. This act will be legitimizing the threats against women because women are the first victims of these localizing arms as we have seen in the past too.
I will conclude that the deteriorating situation of women isn’t a local threat to Afghanistan only likewise terrorism, but to the whole region and will eventually impact the world. Under the name of negotiations and truce, we all know the brutalities against women and children in the Pakistan’s northern regions. Because women are thought to the symbols of progress and power so they do all they can to diminish women’s struggles that stabilizes their nations too.