Afghan women need international support in fight for rights–activist

by Maria Caspani | | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 13:17 GMT

Afghan girls work at the first female-only Internet cafe in Kabul, where women can connect to the world without verbal and sexual harassment and the unwanted gazes of their countrymen. March 8, 2012, REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

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THE HAGUE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The battle for women's rights in Afghanistan could suffer a setback if the international community withdraws its support for the cause of Afghan women, a prominent Afghan philanthropist said.

 “The world promised the women of Afghanistan that 'we will stay behind you and we support you’," Sakena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), told Thomson Reuters Foundation. "If they continuously provide support, Afghan women will rise."

The international community should press for Afghan women to participate in the government’s peace talks with the Taliban and help keep the issue of women’s rights on the global agenda, she added.

There are growing fears that the hard-fought gains made by Afghan women in the fields of education and jobs since the collapse of the austere Taliban regime in 2001 could suffer a reversal when most foreign forces leave by the end of next year.

New York-based Human Rights Watch warned on Tuesday that a proposed revision of the Afghan criminal law would make prosecutions of domestic violence impossible, and urged lawmakers to reject it.

Yacoobi said she expected "some difficulties" after 2014, when foreign troops will pull out and hand over to Afghan security forces.

Though not ruling out the possibility of another civil war between government forces and a resurgent Taliban, she said she was confident Afghans would be able to manage.

"I think most Afghans now are at a point where they want to be responsible and to be held accountable," Yacoobi said. "Maybe financially the country is in trouble and we don’t have a strong government, but at the same time youth groups are really emerging, and women (are too)...I see progress, tremendous progress," she added.

Yacoobi, Afghan-born and U.S.-educated, has been a strenuous advocate for women’s education for decades. She started her organisation in 1995 after experiencing first-hand the misery of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

“I saw all these women and none of them were able to read and write, they couldn’t even think for themselves,” she said.

The firm belief that education is a universal human right as well as a way out of poverty for women in Afghanistan has fostered Yacoobi’s commitment to bettering the life and status of her fellow countrywomen.

“Quality education because just learning how to read and write wasn’t sufficient, we wanted to give them the kind of education that gives people critical thinking.”

“Girls were forbidden from getting an education (under the Taliban),” she added. “But when we started offering education to women and girls as well, and people saw that we were creating a safe environment for them and we weren’t imposing anything ... they came.”

AIL is run by women and 70 percent of its employees are women, according to its website. Through its schools and health clinics, it has improved the lives of millions of people in Afghanistan.  

Yacoobi said the country had made encouraging progress in giving women more rights and that Afghan women should stick together in a united front as they ask for improvements.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that a group of female Afghan lawmakers and activists were eyeing an alliance with religious leaders, hoping to promote and strengthen women's rights through Islam in a joint campaign.

“There is no comparison (between now and then), women now are speaking out, women take part in politics, and women want to be president,” Jacoobi said.


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