Why do I find it oh so not surprising that Afghan shero Malalai Joya’s memoir will not be available in the U.S. until 3 months after it is published in Australia and the UK? However you can donate to supporting her work and keeping her alive right now by going here.
The Independent (UK) recently did an interview with her that I found on RAWA‘s site, read it in it’s entirety, the last para. brought tears to my eyes.
Malalai Joya knows she could be killed any day now, in our newly liberated Warlord-istan. She hugs me goodbye and says, “We must keep in touch.” But I find myself bleakly wondering if we will ever meet again. Perhaps she senses this, because she suddenly urges me to look again at the last paragraph of her memoir, Raising My Voice. “It really is how I feel,” she says. It reads: “If I should die, and you should choose to carry on my work, you are welcome to visit my grave. Pour some water on it and shout three times. I want to hear your voice.” I look up into her face, and she is giving me the bravest smile I have ever seen.
In the meantime while we wait for publication of this important book in the U.S., below is video from a presentation by Sonali Kolhatkar, Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission which directly supports the work of RAWA, on the lives of Afghan women.
And in what can only be described as ironic timing, while Joya’s book is not yet available in the U.S., a new report from the U.N., “Silence is Violence” details the plight of Afghan women. According to the report,
Findings reveal that Afghan women are subjected to an increasingly insecure environment. Women participating in public life face threats, harassment and attacks. In extreme cases, women have been killed for holding jobs that are seen to disrespect traditional practices or are considered “un-Islamic.” For every Malalai Kakar and Sitara Achakzai, two prominent Afghan women who have been killed and made headline news, there are numerous women who receive threatening phone calls ordering them to stop working or threatening harm to their children. Women also receive threatening ‘night letters’, and are physically or verbally abused. As a result, women engage in self censorship, restrict their movements, or discontinue their work. Threats and different forms of intimidation and attacks are harmful psychologically as well as physically. In addition to the women who are directly targeted, such violence also inhibits the participation of other women in development or political processes. Attacks against female journalists deny the availability of information pertaining to issues that only they, as women, can access. Attacks against teachers and health professionals deny Afghans access to education and health care.
The pattern of attacks against women operating in the public sphere sends a strong message to all women to stay at home. This has obvious ramifications for the transformation of Afghanistan, the stated priority of Afghan authorities and their international supporters. To take but one example, that of socio-economic development in a country where 42 per cent struggle to survive in absolute poverty, it is unrealistic to anticipate significant advances when one half of the population is denied participation either at the local or national level. The effective imprisonment of women in their homes in an electoral period raises additional concerns, although it is also worth noting that 20 per cent more female candidates than before are standing in the current round of elections. Nonetheless, some female parliamentarians have indicated that, unless the security situation improves, they are unlikely to stand in parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2010. This is of obvious concern in a transitional environment as fragile as that which obtains in Afghanistan.
On the issue of rape, UNAMA’s research found that although under-reported and concealed, this ugly crime is an everyday occurrence in all parts of the country. It is a human rights problem of profound proportions. Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes and in their communities, in detention facilities and as a result of traditional harmful practices to resolve feuds within the family or community. In some areas, alleged or convicted rapists are, or have links to, powerful commanders, members of illegal armed groups, or criminal gangs, as well as powerful individuals whose influence protects them from arrest and prosecution. In the northern region for example, 39 per cent of the cases analyzed by UNAMA Human Rights, found that perpetrators were directly linked to power brokers who are, effectively, above the law and enjoy immunity from arrest as well as immunity from social condemnation.
The issue of “honour” is a socio-cultural norm that is central to the issue of rape and efforts to counter its prevalence. Shame is attached to rape victims rather than to the perpetrator. Victims often find themselves being prosecuted for the offence of zina (adultery) and are denied access to justice. The problem is compounded when communities subject female victims to lifelong stigma and shame. Moreover, society may call for, or condone, sexual violence through harmful traditional practices such as baad (the practice of handing over girls to settle disputes), or by insisting that a victim marry the rapist. There is a dramatic and urgent need for the Government of Afghanistan and society to question attitudes to rape, the larger problem of violence against women, and their complicity in a crime that destroys the life of numerous victims.
The current reality is that the lives of a large number of Afghan women are seriously compromised by violence. Women are denied their most fundamental human rights and risk further violence in the course of seeking justice for crimes perpetrated against them. Despite the hopes expressed nearly eight years ago, the rights and aspirations of Afghan women, and the men who support them, remain largely unfulfilled. The vast majority of Afghan women suffer a significant human rights deficit; for them, human rights are values, standards, and entitlements that exist only in theory and at times, not even on paper.
The government of Afghanistan, in partnership with civil society and other actors, should provide leadership and commitment in rolling back the phenomenon of violence against women. The government must meet its responsibilities to protect, respect and fulfill women’s rights, including its responsibility to end impunity through prosecuting perpetrators of violence against women and girls in Afghanistan.
Summary recommendations that concern, in the first instance, the Afghan government, as well as other stakeholders, include:
- Publicly and explicitly condemn all forms of violence against women and girls;
- Define and criminalise rape in Afghan law;
- Put in place measures that build an enabling environment and cultural ethic that inhibits rape and holds perpetrators to account and allow women to play an active role within their families, communities and Afghan society in general;
- Promote “affirmative action” measures to redress gender imbalance in society and in particular in the work place; and,
- Promote the participation of women in all decision-making processes that affect their lives and Afghan society, including with respect to peace-building and reconciliation efforts.