BY SARAH STEPHEN
Tahmeena Faryal, a 23-year-old activist involved in the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), will be a featured speaker at the Second Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference, which will be held in Sydney from March 28 to April 1. She will address the topic of women in Afghanistan after the Taliban.
RAWA was formed in Kabul in 1977 as a way to promote women's rights through nonviolent action. Since then, the organisation has evolved — it now runs schools, orphanages, mobile health-care units, self-help classes, and adult literacy classes and it also provides emergency relief in refugee camps.
Born in Afghanistan in 1978, Faryal's primary education was obtained in Kabul, and after her parents became political refugees, continued until her graduation in 1996 at a RAWA school in Pakistan. Faryal is a member of the RAWA foreign affairs and publications committees. She has a confidence which belies her youthful 23 years. She has played a major role in bringing international attention to the human rights violations which plague her country's women and children, ethnic minorities and refugees.
Faryal has represented RAWA in many countries, including the UK, Italy, Spain, Canada, and Thailand. From October to December last year, she visited the United States, addressing the US Congress, the United Nations General Assembly, and the New York-based collective of non-government organisations working within the UN for the equal rights of women and the larger role for women in peace and reconciliation processes. She also spoke to public meetings across the country.
At a November 14 meeting in Santa Monica, California, she told the crowd:
"We know it's hard not to want to react when something like September 11th happens, but bombing Afghanistan will not rid the world of terrorism. Terrorists and fundamentalists live all over the world and by bombing one country, it doesn't kill the network. Besides, we have received no word on the success of the campaign and what RAWA knows through eyewitness accounts is that hundreds of innocent Afghans have been killed. Also, as a result of the attack, there will probably be an inevitable mass starvation and millions of Afghan people will suffer terribly through a harsh winter.
"Many people say, well what do you recommend — don't you want the Taliban out of power? Indeed, it appears that as we gather here this evening, the Taliban are in retreat. But that will not be enough. A retreat which is replaced by another fundamentalist ideology such as the Northern Alliance is not the end of fundamentalism and its violence against women. We say that we would like to see no more arms supply to countries in the region that supply arms to the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, and we would like to have a UN peacekeeping mission. We want a society that respects freedom of speech and beliefs, a secular democracy that respects women's rights and human rights.
"Nowadays, unfortunately the Northern Alliance is the US ally in its campaign for 'Infinite Justice' and we know through a horrific period in Afghan history between 1992 and 1996, that the Northern Alliance has extreme fundamentalist ideologies too and the US may commit the same mistake again. Afghan citizens once again will pay the price for it."
Faryal says that "fundamentalist cliques" are violently misusing Islam, interpreting the Koran according to their own personal whims and political interests, and using religion as a cover to hide their "heinous crimes".
"The abuses against women don't have anything to do with our culture or religion or tradition", she said. "We have had the same culture and religion and tradition for centuries, but this is the first time that people in Afghanistan — and women in particular — have endured these terrible experiences in the name of the culture of Afghanistan.
"The reality for the women of my country: you are watching your daughter, wife, mother bought and sold like cattle, humiliated, whipped, beaten, restricted in their movements. Can you bear to see your wife take caustic acid and lie in intense agony for days, waiting to die? You are watching your little boy blown up by a landmine. There are more than 10 million landmines in Afghanistan. The UN estimates that it will take over a century to remove them all.
"RAWA has staged protest marches against the fundamentalists, we have awareness campaigns, hundreds of underground schools in Afghanistan and schools in the refugee camps and adult literacy programs. We also have mobile medical teams and distribute food and blankets to Afghan refugees.
"As a woman educated in a RAWA school I was fortunate enough to realise my potential as a woman and make a life commitment to help other women in my country."
Faryal cannot use her real name or be photographed as RAWA activists have become special targets of the Taliban and fundamentalists around the world.
To register or find out more about the Second Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference, visit <revolt.org> or phone (02) 9690 1230 or 1800 634 206.
From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.
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