The Women of Afghanistan
The Taliban regime, which started in the 1990s and still affects the lives of the Afghan people, was known internationally for the adoption if the strictest form of the Sharia law – mostly when it comes to women.
Because among the horrors of war, women saw most of their rights be cut down practically in one fell swoop. While it’s true that the majority of the population was basically held in home arrest, for women the situation was aggravated by the misogynist interpretation of the sacred book. The burqa was reinstate after decades of banishment; they weren’t allowed outside the house without an appropriate male escort, which meant that women could no longer work outside the household – and that caused a veritable crisis, since they made up significant part of the country’s workforce. Since women weren’t allowed to teach many schools simply shut down, leaving both girls and boys without any formal education.
It’s a hellish situation, and, in order to remind us that this monstrosity exists and to celebrate those who have to live under it, I’d like to present some Afghani women who made a difference to their country!
· Anahita Ratebzad (October 1931 – 7 September 2014)
The first woman to have an active role in the Afghan government. Founding member of the communist party, medical doctor and women’s rights activist, Ratebzad started making noise in the 1950s, when she and a group of women who uncovered their faces and went to work – in public; she also worked as a nurse, tending to male patients, a feat unheard of thus far. After a year as Education Minister she became deputy head of state until 1986. When the mujahidin took over Ratebzad and her family were forced to escape the country; she was living in Germany by the time of her death.
· Sitara Achakzai (1956/1957 – 12 April 2009)
One of many women assassinated by the Taliban for daring to defend women’s rights. Months before her death she commemorated the International Women’s Day by leading a sit-in of 11,000 Afghan women gathered to pray for peace. She was also a local politician in Kandahar, and vocal about empowering women to take jobs and demand equal rights. Achakzai was killed in front of her house, as she arrived from a meeting.
· Malalai Kakar (1967-28 September 2008)
The first woman to graduate from the Kandahar Police Academy, Lieutenant Colonel Kakar was also head of the department of crimes against women. Policewomen are invaluable for law enforcement in Afghanistan, since gender division is still very strong: female cops can perform searches on women for concealed weapons and maintain decorum when the police need to enter a household with women inside. She too was murdered just outside her house, as she prepared to leave for work. Since her assassinationmany other officers were also murdered by the Taliban.
· Safia Ahmad Jan (1941–25 September 2006)
Not only a women’s right advocate, Jan had stayed in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime to secretly teach girls. She was chief of the Woman’s Affairs department in Kandahar, position that Jan occupied for five years. Like Achakzai and Kakar she was killed near her house.
· Malalai Joya (born April 25, 1978)
As a Parliamentarian in the National Assembly of Afghanistan Joya called out – publicly – the presence of warlords and war criminals in the Parliament, causing her to be dismissed from in 2007. A human-rights activist and public denouncer of injustice and wrongdoing, Joya today travels the world speaking against the people who stand between Afghanistan and true democracy, always accompanied by armed guards after surviving four assassination attempts.
· Maryam Durani (born 1987)
The receiver of the International Women of Courage Award of 2012 and the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award in 2014 may be young, but has a lot on her CV. Besides having degrees in business, law and political science, Durani is a people’s representative in the provincial council and owner of Merman Radio of Kandahar, which broadcast specifically to women, and the Malalai Maiwandi Internet cafe, the first free internet café for women in the country.