Afghan women are desperate for justice

Issue 

Shiko Zaher is a member of the Tulo Association in Wollongong, which runs assistance and service to Afghan people in the community. She delivered the speech below at the October 30 Reclaim the Night rally in Wollongong.

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I am coming from a distant place; a place, whose plight is hardly felt beyond its geographical borders; a place where women's wails bears no meaning; a place where a group of religious fanatics can disregard all the values and norms of a human society.

I am talking to you on behalf of the women who have no say in their lives, whose very personal behaviour must be approved by the male members of the family and who have to breathe the way their husbands want.

These are not jokes, but some of the bitter realities in post-Taliban Afghanistan, where women are "incomplete human beings" or the "second gender".

Women of Afghanistan have always been the victims of idealist arrogance. For centuries now women have been denied their right to inheritance, to choose their own partner in marriage, and to work — either by government decree or by their own husbands, fathers and brothers.

Schools for girls have been burned down. Girls have been victims of acid attacks. Many of the women who cannot bear these issues commit suicide and many more have undergone physical and psychological torment for daring to venture into new horizons.

Many more, including prominent activists and professionals, have been shot and killed.

The fall of the Taliban brought with it a temporary moment of hope for a better future for all people, especially women.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, despite the passage of eight years, endless promises and little action, not much has changed.

Women are forbidden to work or leave the house without a male escort. In most parts of the country, women are still not allowed to seek medical help from a male doctor. They undergo marital rape and they are forced to cover themselves from head to toe and so on.

Ninety percent of these women are still unable to put across their problems. Many women are still routinely raped, abused and treated like second-class citizens.

Then it was the Taliban, but now [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai has passed a law backed by fundamentalist parliamentarians and clerics that legalises abuse towards women.

In a country where 85% of women have no formal education, where women are so desperate for justice and where women cannot step outside the house without their husband's permission, how can we believe that things are getting better for the Afghan people, especially women?

The really painful aspect of these developments is the implementation of these barbaric laws right under the eyes of the civilised world, developed nations and in the name of democracy.

It is sad that while Australian soldiers give their lives trying to protect a fragile state against Taliban extremists, another bunch of extremists sit in powerful and protected positions in the Afghan government and seek to implement "Talibanisation" in a different name.

A fundamentalist government, extremist legislators, Islamist warlords and Stone Age laws are not worth the commitment of the international community. An official policy of persecution of women and minorities, and religious fundamentalism, are not worth the lives and efforts being put in danger by the Australian government.

Using today's forum, I, for and on behalf of all the unheard cries from the far corners of the country of my origin, on behalf of victims of abuse and persecution, on behalf of the women of Afghanistan I oppose arrogance, oppose ignorance and oppose fanaticism.

Peace!