Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan(RAWA)
Life for Afghan Women under the Taliban
RAWA is the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women’s rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977. They are fighting for the oppressed and enchained women of Afghanistan and were struggling for democracy and women’s rights while they were under siege from medieval-minded terrorists. RAWA are always fighting for funds so they can continue their hard struggle to try to implement their projects. These are what we in the West take for granted, education, health care, income generation, culture and public awareness. Nevertheless, there are many people in the West that think wearing the burqa is oppression for Afghanistan women. This is not how these women see their oppression; it goes much more deeply than that. Oppression for these women is focused around citizenship, education and employment.
Meena founder of RAWA (1956-1987)
It is a good idea to see whyRAWA were founded, to try and understand their hopes and aims. RAWA were founded in 1977 to improve life for Afghan women. Their founder was an Afghan woman called Meena, she laid the foundation of RAWAin 1977. This organization was meant to give voice to the deprived and silenced women of Afghanistan. She started a campaign against the Russian forces and their puppet regime in 1979 and organized numerous processions and meetings in schools, colleges and Kabul Universityto mobilise public opinion. Another great service rendered by her for the Afghan women is the launching of a bilingual magazine, Payam-e-Zan (Women’s Message) in 1981. Through this the magazine RAWA has been projecting the cause of Afghan women boldly and effectively. Payam-e-Zan constantly exposed the criminal nature of fundamentalist groups. Meena also established schools for refugee children, a hospital and handicraft centres for refugee women inPakistan to support Afghan women financially. Its first task was to operate schools and medical centres where women and children could access services denied them by their state. Meena’s active social work and effective advocacy against the views of the fundamentalists and the puppet regime provoked the wrath of the Russians and the fundamentalist forces alike. Meena was assassinated by agents of KHAD (Afghanistanbranch of KGB) and their fundamentalist accomplices in Quetta,Pakistan, on February 4, 1987.
Afghan people are not Arab. Most Afghans are Muslim, some are Jewish and Hindu and a variety of other religions. The Taliban suppressed both men and women and children. The men were forced to wear a four inch beard or go to jail. Women had to wear the burqa or veil or they could be executed. Women couldn’t work or go to school when traditionally women were overall very much liberalised for a Muslim country. Many women were doctors and lawyers and most did not wear a full veil. In the Koran men and women are told to dress modestly. In the Koran there is no mention of the veil or to what extent it should be worn. Under the Taliban the Afghan women used the burqa in recent times to their own advantage. It helped the women of RAWA to move around more freely without recognition. Women, under the Taliban were still organising education for their children by running secret schools. However, they had to be vigilant against being found and were constantly on the move. Many of the women were often still wearing make-up while wearing the burqa, which was also forbidden.
Before the Russian invasion in 1979, women had the choice of what to wear. Many had professional jobs, 70% of teachers were women. They had constitutional rights as citizens. Women had held the right to vote since the 1920s. Even though they were mainly Muslims, many chose to dress in a western style. However, years of war and drought did lead to a human existence that falls below the worst level of degradation imaginable.
Afghan women did see a reversal for them within citizenship. This for them had been a move from major involvement within their own country to virtually becoming non-persons within a concept of citizenship. They were going to have to fight for what had been taken from them. The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan had called for special measures “to protect women and girls from forced and under age marriages and all forms of violence”. (Annan,2002) He called for women to be able to get back into participation of all aspects of life in Afghanistan and regain the right to employment, education and freedom of expression.
Many people in the West thought that when the Taliban were overthrown, that things would get better for the women and children ofAfghanistan. This was not so, for the Northern Allianceand Mujahedin had been restored to power. In the past their treatment of women had been just the same as that by the Taliban. What many do not know is that the USAhad supported the Mujahedin in the past. Actually, they funded and supported the Mujahedin in the fight against the Russians. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan added a patriotic dimension and the USA lent its support on the principle that its enemy’s enemies were its friends. The Americans knew the Mujahedin wanted to bring women to heel, but they were willing allies against Moscow and that is all that mattered.
The extent to which the women of RAWAwould go to raise awareness of their plight, could be seen in the work of women like Taheena Faryal. She had travelled toAustralia to try to put a human face on the suffering of the people and their gender. This was to try and again autonomy for her gender who were suffering under a patriarchal-fundamentalist regime. Like all RAWA spokeswomen she did not use her real name and always travelled incognito. Even though when the Taliban had gone, there were still enough fundamentalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan that were getting money and support from the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia or France, which could have put Taheena’s life in jeopardy.
Faryal is a product of RAWA and she had grown with RAWA’s overtly political goals. For RAWA this is a dangerous business. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the governments had denied them legal recognition. Fundamentalists and their supporters had routinely attacked their demonstrations. Nevertheless, by 1997 RAWA had more than 100,000 active members yet it still had not registered on the Western scene. However, that all changed when RAWA established its very own website. From three or four hits a day and this described by Faryal was “exciting at the time” by 2002 they ran seven mirror sites to accommodate traffic from around the world. This development rocketed RAWA into the consciousness of politicians, other feminists and people around the globe.
I don’t think we can ever apprehend or understand the suffering for those Afghan women and their families. If it were not for RAWA we would not know of the suffering these women and their families had to endure. How can we in the West ever understand what is like to have to sell your daughter for as little as a 100kg sack of flour. For, this is what the proud Afghans had been reduced to in a desperate struggle to keep body and soul together. It is hard to apprehend how a woman who has nurtured their child can give her up, or was it simply pressure laid on these women from the men of the villages that made them do this?
Should we think that the girls’ that were being bartered into marriage gave a contrived solace by the families to calm the conscience and to shore up the tatters of their dignity. The cruel reality is that many of the helpless girls would pass through many hands facing a fate worse than death. Those unnoticed villains of this despicable story were those benefiting from the bargain prices, purchasing these little girls with the free-of-cost food which had been supplied by Western relief agencies. So again are the West indirectly to blame in the way that food supplies are distributed, for this was contributing to the trafficking of young blameless girls?
In time these girls were at a greater risk of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS through them being sold as brides, also the fact that they may have been passed between several men. Many of them and some were only ten years of age could now be looking at a disease infected shorter life. These young girls were to become women very quickly, losing what was left of their childhood.
Statement from theRAWAwebsite ‘about us’ page:
“Today RAWA’s mission for women’s rights is far from over and we have to work hard for establishment of an independent, free, democratic and secular Afghanistan. We need the solidarity and support of all people around the world” http://www.rawa.org/rawa.html
© 2011 Carol Robson