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Women, Oppressed by Enforced Illiteracy, Are Still Afghanistan’s Brightest Hope

An Afghan woman at a bazaar held at Camp Eggers in Afghanistan. (Photo: Petty Officer 1st Class Denise Alford)


Women, Oppressed by Enforced Illiteracy, Are Still Afghanistan’s Brightest Hope

An Afghan woman at a bazaar held at Camp Eggers in Afghanistan. (Photo: Petty Officer 1st Class Denise Alford)

The women of Afghanistan are amazing. Despite decades of continuous warfare, they remain determined to build a society based on equal rights. They are, ultimately, the best hope for peace in the region. Since the persecution of women under Taliban rule became rampant in the late 1990s, thousands of women have come forward, many books have been written and films made to inform the rest of the world.

Fatima Gailani, head of the Afghan Red Crescent (Red Cross) and daughter of moderate National Islamic Front leader Pir Gailani, speaks with candor and knowledge of the history of her beleaguered nation.

Fatima's work to help the victims of violence in her country is traced in the documentary “Shadow of Afghanistan 1959-2012.”

“We had democracy in Afghanistan,” she says with pride “We had ten years of the best time Afghanistan ever saw in the twentieth century.”

The government formed in 1964 with a new Constitution, which protected the rights of all citizens. “That constitution was an Islamic constitution,” Fatima explains. “It was made under Islamic law. Under that law, men and women had equal rights in education and work and political participation – and above all, in 1964 we had equal pay for the same work, whereas in France women were still struggling for it.”

Advances for Afghan women in the 1950s and 1960s outshone many European countries.

The Soviet invasion in 1979 and the ten years of brutal carnage that followed, turned Afghanistan into a nation in exile, with refugees spread across the world. Once the Soviet armies withdrew, aid from the West stopped, and the country was torn apart in civil war.

The children of terror, mostly orphans raised in refugee camps by extreme fundamentalists, formed a group of talib “students,” the Taliban, who blamed the troubles in Afghanistan on the evil influence of “infidels” from both sides of the cold war.

Fatima sees the problems of her country in the context of the world's new Great Game. “It's not just the United States. If it's a powerful person, if it's a powerful government, they like to feel things are easy. They like to see that things are instant – instant coffee, instant juice, lots of instant. I believe that most of the miseries today we see in Afghanistan is because of instant politics.”

When the Taliban took control of the country's government in 1994, the oppression of women became central to their policies under Sharia law. Extremists fostered illiteracy and used outright lies to control women. “What the Taliban were doing was the result of a very bad situation in Afghanistan – the evil of civil war. We compare everything to a nightmare which was Taliban's era, that's why no matter what it looks a little bit better from what we used to have during the Taliban. If you want to examine the human rights situation in Afghanistan, of course it is very bad. The report of the European community from the North in Afghanistan compared it to concentration camps during Hitler's time. The world community should be allowed to help us to bring about a better situation.”

The key to the future, according to Fatima, is education. “It's a very emotional message, when I talk about it I have goose bumps, never have I hesitated about that one message that I have. Please educate us. Please educate us because whatever I see today, the misery in this country, and I mean it with all my heart, that it is because we are illiterate. We don't know; we don't know our rights because we are not aware. Islam was the first religion which taught and prescribed women's rights, but there are times that because of the same politics, because of the same bad people a situation came that things were imposed upon women in the name of Islam, and again I am saying it because we are illiterate, because we don't know, we believed them. It is so easy in the name of Islam to impose such views because they know that people will be shy or hesitant to challenge it. If you tell an illiterate woman that 'you are not allowed to go to bazaar because it is against Islam,' she doesn't know. She doesn't know to say that “Well, if this is against Islam. how come the wife of the Prophet was one of the best business persons in the whole of Arabia?” Because they don't know. That's why ignorance, illiteracy is a plague that I beg every person on earth to help us to get rid of.”

“Everyone came to Afghanistan to ask for something,” Fatima concludes. “If the Americans came, it was not democracy. They wanted just to win the cold war. If it was our neighbors, it was not neighborly help, they just wanted to have a stronger hand inside Afghanistan. But I couldn't understand when people came and collected money in the name of Afghan children and they also came and used this country so cowardly. They were digging the most sophisticated tunnels to live there, to be sheltered, and next door to them in the village people were starving and dying of hunger. So as a Muslim, as an Afghan, this was my question to Bin Laden and his lot: This is what you do to a Muslim country? This is what you do in the name of Islam? Are we so nothing, the Afghan nation is so nothing, that we should be used by everyone? I mean, this breaks my heart.”

Watch part one in this series: “The United States Bombs Afghanistan”

Watch part two in this series: A Search for Bin Laden in the Tora Bora Mountains

Watch part three in this series: Children of Terror

Watch part four in this series: Kill the Journalist, Kill the Story, Kill the Truth

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