Observations on Afghanistan
By SALIL TRIPATHI.
The plight of Afghan women under the Taliban has been well documented.
were denied education and employment, and were treated harshly if they
transgressed the "rules" dreamt up by madrasa-trained, semi-literate,
stalking the streets carrying Kalashnikovs.
International opinion was incensed, but little was done. A National
Geographic cover made an Afghan girl with mesmerising eyes the mascot
misery, generating a well-intentioned e-mail petition that clogged up
around the world in 1999.
Things changed after 9/11. America decided to remove the Taliban from
and Barbara Bush went on national television seeking emancipation for
women. But after the Taliban fell, the focus shifted. Establishing the
law and rebuilding infrastructure became priorities. The US now spends
month on military operations in Afghanistan, and $25m on aid. Women's
have receded in importance. Some who cast away veils are again
themselves in towns where local militia, opposed to the Taliban but
misogyny, patrol the streets.
"We look like upturned shuttlecocks," an Afghan woman told a group of
York activists visiting Afghanistan recently. The four
Manizha Nadiri, Esther Hyneman and Sunita Mehta, were from an NGO
Afghan Women, which supports Afghan women in the New York area and now
backs nascent women's organisations in Afghanistan. Sunita Mehta, the
co-founder, says: "Our aim is to create platforms for Afghan women to
their own future and speak in their own voices. We see ourselves as a
between the grass roots and the international arena."
Last month, Mehta and her colleagues brought 45 women from all parts
Afghanistan to Kandahar, in the heart of Taliban territory, for a
draw up the first Afghan Women's Bill of Rights. It was an audacious
bringing together academics, activists, under-educated and illiterate
says: "We are willing to take a risk. And we trust the grass roots to
the knowledge, wisdom and expertise required to build the nation."
presented the document to President Hamid Karzai and it will form part
deliberations on a new constitution. He has promised that half his 50
the commission drafting the constitution will be women.
The first guarantee the bill seeks is the right to
healthcare, personal security and support for widows. Freedom of
fifth, followed by the right to vote. Mehta explains: "The security
be paramount when elections take place next year. How can women be
to vote, whether or not they have the right, if they are scared to
That danger remains. When Mehta was in Kandahar, a girls' school was
down and there were attacks on the Kabul-Kandahar road. But it did not
them from going on a picnic, singing songs from Bollywood films and
home-made ice cream.
Mehta says they earned trust because they respected local traditions.
adds: "To work for Afghan women's rights, and not sincerely accept,
and respect the fact that most Afghans are practising Muslims, is
Women for Afghan Women: shattering myths and claiming the future is
Sunita Mehta (Palgrave Macmillan)