Amid Violence, Brave Afghans Give Hope for Future

Posted on 14 September 2010 by

The resilience, determination and sheer courage of so many Afghan women continues to amaze me. Last week I was struck again by this feeling when I read the headline that more women were running for political office in Afghanistan than had ever before. Given the current environment, this is quite a testament to these women. While it has never been safe for female candidates, this is an especially dangerous time to run for office, with women politicians specifically targeted by extremists.

Masooda (cc) Canada in Afghanistan

Masooda (cc) Canada in Afghanistan

Anyone who has been following developments in the country is aware that Afghanistan is perhaps more insecure now than it has been since the lead up to the Taliban takeover in the mid-nineties. Regions that had been considered to be relatively safe, even amid the insurgency in the south, are now also racked with violence. As someone who is passionately political and a strong advocate for women’s rights, I would like to think that if I were an Afghan woman who wanted to hold public office, I too would be brave enough to be a candidate. If I am honest with myself though, I can not imagine being that brave.

Well, 406 Afghan women are.

I have always been impressed with the extraordinary women breaking gender barriers in the country, not just in the political realm but as journalists, police officers and activists as well, many of whom have paid with their lives. While I was writing my master’s thesis on women in Afghanistan — an insecure though far less violent period than the present — I was deeply inspired by leaders such as Malalai Joya. Though only 25 years old, as a representative in the Loya Jirga, Malalai bravely spoke out against corruption and the presence of violent, misogynistic warlords in government, refusing to be silent even after multiple threats to her life. So, it’s not that I was surprised that Afghan women were now again putting their lives on the line. But, given current levels of violence and the talk of international forces potentially making an imminent exit from the country (whether or not that will or should come to pass), the fact that record numbers of women are still determined to fight for their rights and democracy itself is truly remarkable.

In the flurry of debate and talking-heads after the release of the controversial Time cover, some pointed out that one of the main things missing from that story was a recognition of the courageous work being done by local women everyday. While it is no doubt true that far too many Afghan women suffer because of the misogyny, poverty and violence that presently exists in the country, when telling the story of Afghanistan, the strong women challenging those who seek to control them must not be forgotten.

Sadly, two weeks ago the news provided a tragic reminder that there are also Afghan men fighting for women’s rights as well. Five men working for MP Fauzia Galani, who is up for reelection, were murdered after being abducted last Wednesday for believing that a woman should serve as their representative in parliament. These men knew the risks they were taking when they decided to actively support a female candidate. And while all who support women’s rights in Afghanistan should mourn the loss of these men, it is a comfort to be reminded that there are numerous men like them in Afghanistan who understand that women must be empowered for the country to thrive.

Our own partner in Afghanistan, the Afghan Institute of Learning, run by the impressive Sakena Yacoobi, is doing amazing work throughout the country to educate women and men and promote women’s rights. And, AIL will soon be using WLP’s new political participation handbook for women, Leading to Action, to continue to support Afghan women’s role in politics.

Activists like Sakena, the 406 brave women running for office in this Saturday’s election, and the men who support female candidates, even putting their lives at risk, give me hope for an ultimately bright future for Afghanistan despite today’s reality. I can’t think of a better way to end this post than the same way I ended my thesis a couple years ago — with a quote by Malalai Joya that gets me every time.

“You can cut the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of spring.”
– Malalai Joya

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