A voice for the voiceless

July 27, 2007

A representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) was welcomed by a large crowd packed into a Sydney University lecture theatre on July 26.

Speaking under the alias Sohaila for fear of being identified and killed by the Afghani government, the RAWA representative explained the history of Afghanistan under successive repressive regimes and its present political situation, and the work of her organisation.

RAWA was formed in 1977 as an independent political/social organisation of Afghan women fighting for their rights and social justice against the criminals and warlords in power.

To escape persecution by the fundamentalist Taliban — which, she said, views women as less than second-rate citizens — members of RAWA fled to Pakistan. Today, she explained, they carry out their activities underground in Afghanistan. If they operated as RAWA members, she said, they "would be bombed in a day".

In the face of the horrifying abuse, rape and murder of Afghan women, Sohaila said that RAWA's activities have provided education for girls, health care for women and children, a hospital and orphanages, among other social programs. These counter the politically repressive atmosphere, she said. A series of slides showing classrooms full of young children, hospital care for women and children and women in handicraft work, illustrated RAWA's daily acts of resistance.

Jon Piccini reports from Brisbane that Sohaila, addressing a June 24 meeting at the University of Queensland, said Afghanistan is still suffering under the joint heel of the US-led occupation and fundamentalist rule. She said the current situation is "just as bad" as life under the Taliban and that the US-backed government won't allow RAWA basic democratic freedoms such as holding demonstrations or producing a newspaper.

Sohaila said RAWA hopes for a future in Afghanistan where "women have human rights, where there is secular rule and democracy".

For RAWA's work to expand, Sohaila said, they need international intellectual and financial support. For more information, visit <http://www.rawa.org>.

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