By AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Women are at the front line in protecting women’s human rights in Afghanistan. They are teachers, doctors, journalists, activists and politicians. Many have been killed or threatened because of their work to protect women’s rights, while some have fled the country. They face intimidation and attacks; some are threatened by their families for daring to speak out. TheTaliban see their work as defying culture, religion and accepted role of women in society.
As Australian troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2013 the question must be asked, what will happen to the women? Amnesty International spoke to four brave and committed women – some who have paid a high price for their bravery – about the risks they face in championing the rights of women and girls. Here is the final instalment of their stories. (See the rest here, here and here.) For security reasons, names* have been changed.
Aziza*, a women human rights activist from Herat city, describes to Amnesty International her work in universities against extremism and her hopes and fears for the future, as the Afghan government pursues peace with the Taliban.
Working is not easy for women in a traditional, male-dominated society like Herat. The atmosphere for women in the workplace, particularly in government offices, is very difficult. For example, if a woman has a senior position, the male staff will not accept her as their boss and will constantly challenge her authority; so that, instead of focusing on their work, women have to struggle to assert their authority.
In Herat there are also severe extremist challenges. There are extremists who are obstructing the work of civil society, but so far we have been successful in challenging them. We have worked tirelessly to eradicate extremism and promote civil society and human rights networks. Last year we were able to create a coordination body among civil society networks and human rights organisations, which resulted in the establishment of more media outlets. These outlets have played a very important role in promoting human rights and strengthening the role of civil society.
Most of the time we go to universities to promote human rights among the students because extremists are rooted in our universities and are provoking students against civil society and human rights values. We usually enlist liberal religious leaders to help us in our programmes as they can easily provide justification for our work. They have better knowledge of Islam and they can easily argue and reason with the extremists.
Sometimes, we organise an open discussion and invite liberal religious scholars and democrats and intellectuals to come and discuss the issue of human rights and they can freely speak their views. We also invite some traditional mullahs to the open discussion to share their views as well. We have succeeded in promoting the culture of tolerance which makes the extremists listen to the opposite viewpoint as well.
Recently a young singer Shafeeq Murid wanted to perform a musical concert in Herat city, but a radical mullah campaigned against this concert and did not allow it to happen. Since then we increased our fight against fundamentalism in Herat and, in some way, we succeeded in our goal as themullah left Herat. After he left, all the propaganda against human rights and civil society stopped. It was a big achievement by the human rights activists and we will continue our work to eliminate fundamentalism.
We don’t accept peace without justice; unsustainable peace and with no transparency. We know that there is no transparency in the peace process and we don’t know what is going on behind the curtains. Sometimes we hear from the Taliban website about the peace process.
I, personally along with other human rights activists and members of the civil society, am trying to be optimistic about the future. We do our best to take advantage of the current opportunities which are available now. Our aim is to have a better life and if we lose our hope and stop working our situation may get worse.
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people campaigning to protect human rights. This year Amnesty International is campaigning both in Australia and globally to ensure women and girls in Afghanistan are protected, enjoy their full set of human rights, and are empowered and supported in leading changes in their lives. For information visit http://www.amnesty.org.au/afghanwomen/ or follow us at www.facebook.com/amnestyoz or on twitter @amnestyOz