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Afghan Women Fight to Create Opportunities

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  • Dan Clore
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Afghan women fight to create opportunities BALTIMORE, November 01 (Online): When Anne E.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2003
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Afghan women fight to create opportunities

      BALTIMORE, November 01 (Online): When Anne E. Brodsky met
      some visiting members of The Revolutionary Association of
      Woman from Afghanistan at a feminist expo in Baltimore in
      2000, she hardly imagined their cause would soon become her
      cause and that she would devote the next three years to
      telling the western world about their struggle.

      "They actually convinced me to write a book" about RAWA,
      said Brodsky, an associate professor of psychology and
      women's studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore
      County. Brodsky's first book, With All Their Strength: The
      Revolutionary Society of Women from Afghanistan, was
      published by Routledge earlier this year.

      "Their stories blew me away. I couldn't just think of it
      anymore as something that was just over there," she
      recalled. Speaking at a meeting of the Baltimore Chapter of
      the National Association of Women Business Owners at the
      Loyola Center last week, Brodsky recounted the months since
      2001 that she's spent in Afghanistan and Pakistan (where
      thousands of Afghanis are living in refugee camps), living
      with and interviewing more than 100 members of RAWA for her

      Brodsky donates all proceeds from With All Their Strength to
      RAWA and has become their most visible, vocal advocate in
      the United States. She described RAWA members as courageous
      and resourceful women who have been advocating for women's
      rights in Afghanistan for the last 15 years, often at great

      RAWA was founded in 1977 by a 20-year-old woman from Kabul
      named Meena. For her efforts to empower women in a culture
      that has traditionally denigrated them, Meena was murdered
      in 1987, at age 30, by a warlord who opposed RAWA and the
      heretical notions of secularism and women's rights the
      political-humanitarian organization espouses. According to
      Brodsky, Meena's killing merely strengthened RAWA's resolve.

      In the years since, membership has swelled from a few dozen
      to about 2,000. But the violent opposition persists and RAWA
      still operate clandestinely in many parts of the war-torn
      nation. RAWA has built schools, hospitals and orphanages,
      established literacy courses and food distribution networks
      and created unprecedented educational and entrepreneurial
      avenues for Afghan women.

      It has provided short-term loans to women, mostly widows, to
      launch enterprises ranging from knitting workplaces to
      chicken and bee farms. "Things are a bit better in
      Afghanistan since the liberation from the Taliban,ã the
      author said. "Some women are back at work and some are back
      in school, and some businesses are opening." obstacles
      remain The bad news is that even after the rise and fall of
      the Taliban, the plight of women in Afghan society has not
      markedly improved. (The Taliban's legacy includes publicly
      stoning to death in a soccer stadium a woman accused of
      adultery. Video footage documenting her murder was smuggled
      out by RAWA members.) Violence, degradation and
      discrimination still persist on an alarming scale.

      "Women are still wearing the burka," said Brodsky, who asked
      not to be photographed for this story, citing concerns for
      her safety when she returns to Afghanistan. (She was there
      when journalist Daniel Pearl was murdered in nearby
      Pakistan.) "Maybe 90 percent of women were wearing the burka
      under the Taliban's rule; maybe 75 percent are (still)
      wearing it today," she said. "If it were worn as a religious
      choice, it would be different. But most women are wearing it
      out of fear, to avoid revealing their identity and being
      raped or kidnapped."

      A widespread misperception, according to Brodsky, is that
      the oppression of women in Afghanistan began under the
      Taliban. But she says the culture was already so oppressive
      that the Taliban were at first seen as liberators of the
      women, but then came to be seen as oppressors. "Women were
      the first targets of the Taliban," said Brodsky. "They were
      restricted from school and work and many had to resort to
      begging or even prostitution. The women who were forced to
      prostitute themselves said most of their clients were
      Taliban. The Taliban very much had a 'do as I say, not as I
      do' mentality." Even after allied troops invaded Afghanistan
      and scattered the Taliban to the winds, life for women, in
      many ways, remains grim.

      "The Northern Alliance (the U.S's allies against the
      Taliban) includes the same factions that destroyed the
      country (in civil war) between 1992 and 1996 and caused
      thousands of civilian deaths and committed many atrocities
      against women," she said. "They're still there, and still in
      power, under a different name. (Transitional President)
      Hamid Karzai's department heads are war lords with their own
      private armies that are guilty of terrible atrocities," she
      added. "It's kind of like handing the reins back to Hitler
      or Milosevic after those wars." Brodsky cited some chilling

      Women's average life expectancy in Afghanistan is 45,
      compared to 46 for men. ("It's the only country where
      women's life spans are shorter than men's," she said.) There
      are 1,600 deaths for every 100,000 live births, and only
      three out of four children make it to age 5. Poverty,
      malnutrition and illiteracy are still widespread. Nearly 1.5
      million Afghanis, men and women who fled the violence in
      their homeland, are still living in squalid conditions in
      refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan.

      Despite many obstacles, RAWA, according to Brodsky,
      continues to make strides in a nation Brodsky describes as
      "really different from what we've been reading about (in the
      United States).

      RAWA's biggest concern at the moment is that world attention
      has shifted to other hot spots, particularly Iraq. "RAWA has
      had to cut some projects recently, because people (in the
      rest of the world) think everything is okay in Afghanistan
      now," she said. "(But) we have a responsibility to continue
      to support their indigenous efforts." "Many people can't
      believe what these women in Afghanistan are doing, until
      they get there and actually see it," she added.

      Dan Clore

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