Oct 7: Afghan women on 10 years of US occupation
21 October 2011
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The war in Afghanistan costs US taxpayers two billion dollars a week. However, these phenomenal figures have not translated into anything tangible for Afghan women.

Ten years ago on October 7, the NATO troops, captained by the USA, landed Afghanistan. This UN-mandated invasion was coached in beautiful slogans like liberation of Afghan women from misogynist Taliban. Ten years on, the situation in our country, however, remains grim.

Widespread violence, lack of health care and poverty make Afghanistan the worse country in the world for women, according to a study by the Thomson-Reuters Foundations. Such studies, by the way, have become common place. The Thomson-Reuters study was based on interviews with 213 experts world-wide. This study placed Afghanistan on top of five worst countries for women. The other countries were Congo, Pakistan, India, and Somalia.

The war in Afghanistan costs US taxpayers two billion dollars a week. Even with the Obama Administration’s planned drawdown of 33,000 troops, there would still be almost 70,000 troops in Afghanistan at an estimated cost of $1.2 million each. However, these phenomenal figures have not translated into anything tangible for women.

That Obama Administration is preparing to pull out troops from Afghanistan by 2014 seems highly unlikely in view of mass military basis being built across Afghanistan and arrival of private marines in their thousands. Most likely, the US Administration will justify, post-2014, its continuous presence in the country on the pretext of providing security to women. Will the US military presence save Afghan women? The bleak record of last ten years offer little optimism.

To verify my opinion, I posed five similar questions to five different women. Read on:

Simajan is a 50-year-old mother of five children, teaching at a high school in a suburb of Kabul for the last 10 years.

1-Afghanistan has been named as worst and dangerous place for women? As a woman do you agree and if yes why, your personal experience?

Yes, I read this somewhere but unfortunately am not surprised to hear this. I see women suffering and even dying every day. There are very little facilities for women catering to their safety, healthy and happy. Our government and the parliament, even the so-called international community, only care for their own interests. I am aware that millions of dollars [$ 52 billion in fact] came to this country but how much has been really spent to make our situation better, am not sure. I am lucky to be a teacher. Not only my students but people around me respect me. However, sometimes I do face sexual harassments while going to work or market. In order to avoid this, I prefer to wear Burqa.

2- What has or has not changed for you as woman in the last 10 years?

I have been living in this area since I remember. I did not leave Afghanistan even during bloody Mujahadeen- years and Taliban days. Most of these years, I was teaching at home. But now in last five years, since they built a school close to my home, I am teaching at school. There have been small changes. For example, I can go to market now, can teach or have a TV. My children not only attend school but also have joined English and computer courses. But I haven’t seen any big changes regarding our security, stability, fighting corruption and this is what we really need.

3- Do you think the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan will be good or bad for Afghan women?

It seems it may not be good if they leave. This is what at least what some believe in cities like Kabul and I think media and the so-called political analysts have created this belief. But I believe if you ask women whose villages were bombed and relatives killed, they would definitely support US pull out.

4- What should be done to make Afghanistan a better place?

Well, so many possibilities exist. All the corrupt and criminals must be removed from government posts. There should be accountability. People must have job opportunities, enough food, education, justice and peace. Honest and patriotic people must have chance to run the administration. I don’t think that dealing with Taliban for peace will really bring peace because firstly, there are many versions of Taliban. If one faction agrees, the other becomes even unsympathetic. Secondly, Pakistan decide for Taliban and if they don’t see their interest being served, they would never agree. One the one hand, we daily hear about peace talks, on the other hand, they target the heart of Kabul with their suicide attacks.

5- To what extent you are optimistic about your own and the future of your children and of Afghanistan?

Despite harsh realities, I believe we are still optimistic. We hope for a bright future, a better and wonderful future. Every day, I see hope in my students smiling faces and their desire to get education and through education they want to rebuild their country.

Nasima Rahman, a housewife and mother of two children, is 40 years old and still trying to have another child.

1-Afghanistan has been named as worst and dangerous place for women? As a woman do you agree and if yes why, your personal experience?

To me personally, Afghanistan may not be a worst place to live but I am sure for millions of women it is like that. I wish it was not so but this is reality of our country. I am thinking of women on the countryside. How much they suffer from lack of health care. They face domestic violence. Many of them I know, are beaten up by their husbands. They are not allowed to go outside. No chance to work or get education. I think our government is also responsible; it must do something to change this situation. I am happy because at least I am safe and my husband is nice. But I must admit sometimes he too behaves like many other men. After all he is from this society.

2- What has or has not changed for you as a woman in last 10 years?

I have spent half my life serving my husband, two children and in-laws. It does not make much difference where I have lived and what has changed or has not changed in the country. I hardly go outside. I can see some changes though in last 10 years. For example, now we have so many TV channels showing mostly Indian and Turkish soap operas which by the way are not good especially for our children. The only good change in my life has been to move from Kundoz to Kabul. Here we have better facilities compared to Kundoz [a small town in north]. But I am still worried for my husband’s security. Our country is still beset by so many problems.

3- Do you think the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan will be good or bad for Afghan women?

I have heard my husband and some other relatives saying that these troops have come here for their interests and that they are not kind to our peopl. I know some people back in our village who were killed by foreign troops. For example, 12 members of one family were brutallytortured and killed by these troops a few months back. Those killed had no ties with Taliban and were very poor and innocent. Well, if these troops commit such crimes, then I think it is better they leave. It is also good for their own families back home.

4- What should be done to make Afghanistan a better place?

I think first of all people should have unity among themselves. Our government should not let corrupt people rule us. If we have good and nice people in the government, our country will became a good place for all.

5-To what extent you are optimistic about your own and the future of your children and of Afghanistan?

Yes, I am optimistic and I believe one should not give up hope. Look, I am almost forty, have two children and I am still trying to have another. I wish our children live in peace and have access to education and all other facilities. I want our leaders to be honest, care for their country and people.

Bibi Fatima, a widow, begs from dawn to dusk in one of Kabul’s dusty and dirty suburb to feed her 7 children.

1-Afghanistan has been named as worst and dangerous place for women? As a woman do you agree and if yes why, your personal experience?

Afghanistan, bad or good, is like a home for me. Where else I can go? Three of my children are with me from morning until it gets dark. My husband died few years back but even when he was alive, it was hard to survive so begging remains the only option to feed our children. I don’t like our government and these kharijiha (foreigners). They all lead good lives but give a damn about people like us. If I had a job or some support from the government, why should I have been begging? Afghanistan is not only a worse place for women but every one like me.

2- What has or has not changed for you as woman in last 10 years?

For me nothing has changed. When I returned to Afghanistan, I started begging and ten years later, I do the same thing. My children still can’t go to school. We still have no home. May be I can say that during the Taliban time, I could not openly beg but now I am free to beg. If you can call this a change in my life, then there is a change.

3- Do you think the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan will be good or bad for Afghan women?

I don’t know. Some say it will be bad but others say it will be good if they leave because now they have become like Russians. They bomb and kill our people. So it is better they go home.

4- What should be done to make Afghanistan a better place?

If we had good leaders, they would work to make Afghanistan a better place for all of us. Fighting should stop. No one should have arms except the armymen who should protect us. The foreigners should give money to honest people and not to the thieves.

5-To what extent you are optimistic about your own and the future of your children and of Afghanistan?

It is a sin to give up hope. I am always hopeful and pray to my God to give me the courage to survive and see my children alive. My children are my hope. I only wish my children and thousands other children could go to school.

Sakeena Ahmadi (24) returned from Iran ten years ago. She is married. She is working as an editor and camera woman with a media production company

1-Afghanistan has been named as worst and dangerous place for women? As a woman do you agree and if yes why, your personal experience?

To be honest, when I was preparing to leave Iran with my family 10 years ago, I expected Afghanistan worse then what I found. I find Afghanistan better than Iran where we were harassed, intimated and insulted as Afghan refugees. But I must say, this ‘improvement’ might be Kabul-specific where I live. I have not been to other cities or provinces in Afghanistan. Here in Kabul I can work and study. My husband is very supportive of what I do.

2- What has or has not changed for you as woman in last 10 years?

I would say in last five years since I came here five years ago, for me much has changed. When I was in Iran though we had better facilities but we were always living with fear, had no job and were insulted as refugees. When we came to Kabul, we felt at home and free and happy. I got married and now have a good job.

3- Do you think the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan will be good or bad for Afghan women?

Even though I know the purpose of these troops is to serve US interest in the region and they are not nice to our people in many parts of our country still I think if they leave, it will not be good. I am afraid situation will even deteriorate. I don’t know if I am right or wrong but this is the picture at least media paint. In my view, our own people and government must have capacity and confidence to rebuild our country, bring peace and stability and should not be dependent on others.

4- What should be done to make Afghanistan a better place?

Our people from all around the country should unite and care for each other. We need honest leadership and political parties to guide our people and bring an end to wide-spread corruption and injustices. All the armed militias must be disarmed. Money should be spent for development of the country and not for military purposes. Women, constituting half the population, must play their role to build a better future.

5-To what extent you are optimistic about your own and the future of your children and of Afghanistan?

If I wanted, I could stay in Iran but there I could not hope for my future. I came here with a hope. I am happy and optimistic about my future. I want to study management and find even better job. I want to have kids and raise them with dignity and in peace and security. This is what I want for all women and children in my country too.

Aziza, a 17-year-old young beautiful high school student, lives with her parents who brought her from a remote province to Kabul so that she can continue her education.

1-Afghanistan has been named as worst and dangerous place for women? As a woman do you agree and if yes why, your personal experience?

It depends where you live in this country. When I was in Kundoz two years ago, I wished I were not born in this country or at least not as a girl because my grandfather and people around him did not like my going to school. This made Afghanistan a worst place for me. Now that I am in Kabul and can go to school, I think Afghanistan can become a better place for everybody if you provide education, health facilities and jobs and other basic needs of life. Though I still don’t feel safe especially when it gets dark yet I am happy to be able to fulfill my dream of going to school.

2- What has or has not changed for you as woman in last 10 years?

Exactly ten years ago, I started going to school. I am now 18, in the final year of my high school. A lot has changed for me. I have a vision for my future. I want to study further. Perhaps I will be the first girl in my family reaching college. But this change has not occurred in the lives of millions of other girls who keep dreaming for such a change.

3- Do you think the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan will be good or bad for Afghan women?

My father and many others are against these troops. They also don’t like Taliban. They want neither of them. I think they are right. None of them want peace in our country. But they say if the troops leave, civil war will start and things will get even worse. Others say even if these troops leave, the military basis will remain and they will always try to have a government which will serve them.

4- What should be done to make Afghanistan a better place?

That all people are educated, have access to justice, security and peace and jobs.

5-To what extent you are optimistic about your own and the future of your children and of Afghanistan?

I am very much hopeful. As I said before, I see my future in Afghanistan. I hope our country will become a peaceful and free country. But each and every one of us, men and women must work hard, be honest so that our country become a better place like many other countries in the world.

Sahar Saba


* FROM VIEWPOINT ONLINE ISSUE NO. 73, OCTOBER 21, 2011:
http://www.viewpointonline.net/oct-7-afghan-women-on-10-years-of-us-occupation.html

* A slightly different version in Swedish is also available at the Feminitisk Perspektiv. This report was originally commissioned by the Feministisk Perspektive.

* Sahar Saba is an Afghan women rights’ activist. For many years, she was spokesperson of Revolutionary Afghan Women Association (RAWA). Also, she has worked with RAWA for many years in refugee camps in Pakistan and in Afghanistan in different capacities. She has traveled to many countries in the past several years to speak on behalf of Afghan women. She was born in Kabul. Her family migrated to Pakistan where Sahar Saba became active with RAWA. She has a law degree from London University and writes on issues facing Afghan women.

Online 23 October 2011
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