"Naturally the common people don't
want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor
in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders
of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple
matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a
fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the
bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell
them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack
of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same
in any country." --
Suraya Pakzad (right), founder of the Voice
of Women Organization in Afghanistan, with Nazifa, a former
resident of VWO's shelter, who was rejected by her family,
but helped by the shelter staff. Video
"I was pretty much based in Kandahar city.
And the reason I was not able to go to the districts, the areas
close to the city, was simply for security reasons. By year 2011,
or even beginning of 2010, there was very little movement between
people from the city to the districts and back and forth. So my
perspective is merely and only from the city. And unfortunately,
having lived there for nine years in a row, I witnessed some
of the horrific, violent activities that happened in the city, one
including that cost the life of my, you know, my father, who was
the mayor of Kandahar city, last July. So you can, you know, it
is very difficult for me, personally, to accept the military reports
or other international reports who constantly claim that security
was getting better, because on a daily basis, life for us citizens
living in the city, things were getting worse, day by day. And that
is the reason why I’ve left the country. So I don’t
know where these reports are coming from.."
"No one listens to us, no one treats us as human beings."
That's the quote Amnesty International uses to head its October
2003 report on the sorry state of women in Afghanistan. Whatever
the American military presence may be accomplishing in that troubled
land, it hasn't done much for the female half of the population.
The women are still getting kicked around.
Reading Amnesty's account of wife beatings and rapes, abductions
and forced marriages, repression and neglect, I'm reminded of
the two proud Afghan women who came to see me during my office
hours at California State Hayward in the winter of 1999. They
looked to me like their nation's best and brightest. But here
they were taking classes at a school far, far from home. Why?
Because that was back when the Taliban were still using whips
on women who allowed an inch of skin to show in the streets of
The United Nations thinks the International Security Assistance
Force in Afghanistan should be expanded to 15,000 members. The
United States refuses to raise the number above the current 4,800.
The Afghan Ministry of Reconstruction estimates that getting the
country up to the poverty level it knew under Soviet occupation
would cost $15 billion over the next 10 years. Fat chance President
Bush will appropriate a tenth that much. As Sen. Joseph Biden
has put it, the Bush administration has "given up the ghost"
in Afghanistan and is allowing the country to slip back into the
hands of the warlords.
What makes me most ashamed about this betrayal of trust is the
plight in which it leaves the women of Afghanistan. As Anne Brodsky
points out in "With All Our Strength," her new study
of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan,
women may have found token participation in the new government,
but they are working against overwhelming odds in simply getting
back to where they were before the Taliban. The Taliban -- whom,
let us remember, the United States brought to power -- took over
a country in which women enjoyed decent status.
My Afghan students speak proudly of mothers who were doctors
or chemists. Half the civil servants in the country were female.
Now, according to the watchdog group Feminist Majority, whatever
progress the American intervention brought for women is rapidly
being lost outside the capital. Feminist Majority reports that,
with American forces hunkering down within the city limits of
Kabul, warlords like Ismail Khan are forcing women of Herat to
wear the burqa again and to have gynecological exams to check
for "illicit" sexual activity. On the other hand, when
women have a legitimate need for medical care -- say, during childbirth
-- UNICEF reports that prudish husbands often refuse to let male
doctors attend their wives, with the result that Afghanistan is
running one of the highest death rates for child delivery in the
When American troops went into Afghanistan, Laura Bush said the
liberation of women should be our highest priority. Well, perhaps
it can still be -- and without waiting for her tardy husband to
get around to it. Suppose we invited the first lady to head a
program for encouraging Afghan women to resettle in the United
States. The deal would be this:
If an Afghan woman makes her way to a U.S. Army base, an office
of the assistance force or through the door of any relief agency
in the country and asks for a plane ticket to the United States,
she gets one, no questions asked.
In the States, she will be received by a consortium of universities
that have agreed to scare up the money for a full college scholarship
plus living expenses. The program would be a sort of gender-based
underground railroad, though neither as clandestine nor as illegal
as the escape routes offered to slaves before our Civil War. If
George or Laura Bush wants to contribute a few federal dollars
and the prestige of their support to the effort, fine. That might
help make a reality of the Afghanistan Freedom Support Act the
president signed into law in 2002.
After all, Sen. Barbara Boxer managed to make the liberation
of Afghan women a "funding priority" under the act,
which authorizes spending $2.3 billion over the next four years.
Here's one way to achieve that goal directly and with minimal
Currently, women who flee the country looking for a better future
are apt to wind up as unwelcome guests in one of the refugee camps
in Pakistan. With a diminished number of Afghan men left after
the nation's long wars, they often find no husbands. My students
tell me that many a refugee woman must reluctantly settle for
a marriage of convenience with a male immigrant in the United
States to be admitted to this country. A "save the women"
rescue program would provide another option, one that might even
pay unforeseen dividends for Afghanistan, especially if the new
government succeeds in making it attractive for educated women
to return. Indeed, the program might help achieve that goal by
serving notice to the warlords that if their misogyny continues,
they will see the best and the brightest of their women vanish
and their country will be all the poorer. They may not care; but
why should millions of women suffer for the alpha-male stupidity
of their leaders?
In Aristophanes' "Lysistrata," women exert power by
withholding sexual favors. In a country like Afghanistan, so severely
in need of all the scientific and technical brains it can muster,
women who find their way to a decent education might gain even
greater leverage with the patriarchy back home. They would be
in a position to say, "If you want us back, equality is the
price you'll have to pay."
Theodore Roszak teaches history at California State University,
Hayward. His latest novel is "The Devil and Daniel Silverman."
of the Women of
Behind the Scenes
UMBCs Anne Brodsky Tells the Story of Afghan Women
By Charles Rose
Retriever Weekly Guest Writer
In the two years since the horrific attacks of Sept. 11 and the
ensuing American invasion of Afghanistan, the worlds attention
has shifted away from the plight of the Afghan people, who have
been ravaged by decades of war. But even before Sept. 11, Anne
Brodsky, an associate professor of psychology and affiliate professor
of womens studies at UMBC, was already risking her life
to tell the story of Afghan women under the oppression of the
Taliban and other fundamentalist Islamic factions and she continues
that fight today.
Brodskys research background studying the resilience of
women and the role of communities in resisting societal risks
such as violence, poverty and racism led to her current work with
the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
RAWA is a humanitarian and political womens organization
that has operated clandestinely in Afghanistan and Pakistan for
the past 26 years. Brodsky has been working with the group for
over three years to help raise awareness of the plight of women
who still risk their lives when they stand up for basic freedoms
like going to school, having a job, wearing modern clothes, and
being able to leave the house unescorted by a male.
As part of these efforts, Brodsky has traveled to underground
girls schools, orphanages and refugee camps in Afghanistan
and Pakistan. She has risked her life ? both from the dangers
facing a Western woman in areas controlled by fundamentalist groups,
and from the ongoing fighting and unexploded landmines and ordnance
that litter the countryside.
Recent news items have underscored the relevance of Brodskys
work: a report released this summer by Human Rights Watch detailed
how women are still being raped and attacked by Afghan warlords
outside of Kabul and a Newsweek story noted the post Sept. 11
rise in domestic violence in American Muslim families.
Even worse is the apparent resurgence of the Taliban, who have
launched several recent attacks on Afghan border police and girls
schools from just across the Pakistan border, a development that
doesnt surprise Brodsky.
"While schools for girls have reopened, only about 32 percent
of the students who returned were girls," she says. "Girls
schools have been fire bombed and threatened; and forced marriages,
imprisonment of girls and women for attempting to escape abusive
marriages, forced medical chastity tests and other extreme forms
of oppression are ongoing, thus RAWAs activities and message
are still urgently needed."
Since Sept. 11, Brodsky has continued her research through multiple
trips to the region and by helping to bring members of RAWA to
the United States and UMBC to tell their stories. Earlier this
year, Brodsky published a book about RAWA and her experiences
with the group, With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association
of the Women of Afghanistan (Routledge).
Publishers Weekly described With All Our Strength as "Groundbreaking...The
first writer with in-depth access to RAWA, Brodsky writes a passionate
narrative...[S]tands out as a lone and important study of a remarkable
organization." Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban, calls it
"A powerful story."
Brodsky will never forget her five months in the field with the
brave women of RAWA. "I gained a much deeper understanding
and appreciation for their struggle, and was able to record the
in-depth stories of real peoples lives under so many years
of oppression, war and trauma," she says. "But more
than being victims, RAWA has empowered women, children and men
to use education as a tool to fight for democracy, freedom, human
rights and peace."
According to Brodsky, the fight for democracy and human rights
in Afghanistan is far from over. "RAWA remains a threatened
group for their outspoken opposition to the oppression of women
and all democratically minded people that continue under the current,
warlord dominated government," she says. "They fervently
hope that the rest of the world will continue to support them
and will not, once again, turn their backs on the long suffering
people of Afghanistan."
Brodskys work on behalf of women at UMBC and beyond was
recognized with the 2003 award from the Presidents Commission
for Women, one of several presented at UMBCs 37th Anniversary
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