Women for Afghan Women – 2009-05-19 22:45:58
KABUL, Afghanistan (February 19, 2009) — Women for Afghan Women is a grassroots organization that promotes and protects human rights for Afghan women. Having worked in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, we have been direct witnesses both to the post-Taliban revitalization of Afghan society and the current deterioration of conditions in the country.
It’s difficult for us here in the US to imagine what it means to be a woman in Afghanistan, a country where women are widely viewed as the property of men and as such can be raped, tortured, sold, traded, enslaved, trafficked, murdered—all with impunity.
Our Family Guidance Centers in Kabul, Mazar and Kapisa are filled with women and girls—children really—who have been subjected to all these horrors and have little if any recourse to law. Just last night we rescued an 11 year old girl whose parents sold her to a man for $20,000. Her 17 year old sister is also in our care. Six years ago, she had been sold to a blind cleric, who beat her constantly.
When she finally escaped and got to us, the court returned her to her husband after he promised to stop the beatings. The fact that she had been sold did not enter into the verdict. Now she is back with us: the cleric failed to keep his word. We’re also trying to help three sisters who were raped by their father.
Although their mother has verified their story of sexual abuse, they are being held in the juvenile detention center—revictimized—until they can “prove” the charges. That means until they can prove they have not committed adultery! These cases reflect a version of sharia law, the very body of “law” about to be imposed in an area of Pakistan if a new agreement between that government and the Taliban is signed.
When applied by extremists, easily misinterpreted sharia is less a religious mandate than the lynchpin of a strategy for maintaining absolute power by keeping half the population on its knees–rather like slaveholders in the States, for whom the Bible was a tool of slavers who enforced slavery by naming it the law of God.
The United States progressed from slavery to President Obama. How do we progress from women who are property and without rights to women who are respected as human beings? Certainly not by giving up. Certainly not by expecting deep and lasting change in a few years. Not by arming the militias or negotiating with the Taliban. We get there over decades and with patience, not by military means alone, but by heeding the immediate needs of the people, which have been largely ignored for 8 years.
By demanding a government in Afghanistan that is free of corruption. Afghans desperately want this. By giving people work so they can support their families and aren’t forced by dire poverty into the arms of welcoming Taliban. By building schools for girls, by developing public health, especially for women, by promoting the rule of law throughout the country.
By making sure that a portion of the funding allocated for Afghanistan finds its way to the children begging on the streets, to the women who turn to prostitution because they have no place to live, who die in childbirth in greater numbers than anywhere on earth because there is no doctor for them or because they are too young to bear children.
The Afghan people do not want the Taliban. They want these things. If we waste more time before helping them as they need to be helped, we hurt them and we hurt ourselves. And we will surely come to regret our foolish mistakes once again.
• Contact: Manizha Naderi, WAW Executive Director
WAW Condemns Law Legalizing Rape in Marriage
Women for Afghan Women is appalled and outraged at the new law that President Karzai has approved, a law that legalizes rape within marriage and child marriage and makes it illegal for women to leave the home without a male relative’s permission.
The law gives Afghan men the right to have sex with their wives at least “once every four nights,” unless ill, and does not give women the right to refuse. The law also gives men preferential inheritance rights, easier access to divorce, and priority in court.
With America poised to “negotiate” with the very structures that are fundamentally opposed to the rights, health and well-being, safety and agency of women, our work to empower and protect Afghan women is more dangerous and more critical than ever.
We do not believe the US should be negotiating with the Taliban, thus driving us into the darkness that cast a shadow over the Swat Valley. President Karzai’s approval of this horrific law, presumably to improve his chances of being re-elected, demonstrates that there is very little difference between those in power now and the Taliban.
Women for Afghan Women runs three women’s centers and shelters, in Kabul, Mazar and Kapisa. We know first hand the desperate situation of women who are raped, abused and tortured in their homes and in their communities.
We have girls as young as 6 staying in our shelter, rebuilding their shattered selves after brutal gang-rape, after having been sold to men or given away, handed over, to another family as restitution for a crime. Our advocacy for women’s rights is rooted in intimate knowledge of the hardships suffered by women and girls in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s leaders must create laws and cultural sensibilities that protect and respect women and girls instead of laws that further inhibit their human right to freedom of self-definition.
We are told that speaking out against this law is tantamount to disrespecting Afghan culture.
Our experience has been that the majority of Afghan people do not believe in laws like these, that they want peace, that they are in favor of women’s rights, and that the Afghan government has been hijacked by warlords and power-mongers who support their march to power by trampling on the bodies of women.
Women for Afghan Women does not respect any culture, group or individual that places one group of people at the mercy of another or gives one group absolute power over another. We invite the entire world to unite in condemnation of this and every law and practice that undermines fundamental human rights.
Women for Afghan Women (WAW) is an organization of Afghan and non-Afghan women from the New York area who are committed to ensuring the human rights of Afghan women. WAW promotes the agency of local Afghan women through the creation of safe forums where Afghan women can network, develop programs to meet their specific needs, and participate in human rights advocacy in the international sphere.
Women for Afghan Women, 32-17 College Point Blvd., Room 206, Flushing, NY 11354. (718) 321-2434. firstname.lastname@example.org
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