”I’ve come a long way passing many challenges, trials and sorrows along the road. From my humble beginnings as an outspoken female child in a misogynist society that did not value the female voice, to a voice for the vulnerable, defenceless and victimised community of women in Afghanistan today. My struggle began the day I was born”
Afghan women are demanding to be heard in the on-going international dialogue over the country’s future after 2014 amid hopes that a peace settlement can be reached with the Taliban.
Fawzia is a prominent female member of the current Afghan parliament and who intends to run for the presidency spot in 2014. It would take a woman with a steely determination to take on the task of running the country that has been ravaged by war as much as it has tradition, but that is exactly what Fawzia possesses. As America and its NATO allies prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 women fear that their newfound rights may be undermined in peace talks with the Taliban. One woman who is hoping to change things for the country is Fawzia Koofi.
Left out to die in the sun when she was a baby because she was a girl, violence has shadowed her since her childhood in the wild mountains of northern Afghanistan. She often witnessed her father beat her mother and she lost him along with her brother and husband to the country’s successive wars, insurgencies and Taliban dictatorship.
Fawzia has been a member of parliament since 2005 and the road has not been easy. Fawzia’s life is continually under threat. She has eight bodyguards — more when she leaves Kabul. A year ago, returning to the capital from a Women’s Day celebration in Jalalabad, her car was attacked by gunmen and two policemen were killed.
Women in Parliament
Fawzia is one of a growing number of spirited Afghan women in public life who have refused to sit quietly on the back benches as men fight over the country’s future. Last year she published her autobiography called Letters to My Daughters, which was a testament to the women of her country, such as her mother, who persevered in a society affected by tradition as regularly as it was by war.
In the book Fawzia describes the damage she witnessed; the routine of domestic violence, gang rape, the public humiliation and beatings carried out by the Taliban. She addresses her young daughters telling them “You were lucky not to be a young woman in those days. Very lucky indeed.”
Fawzia is gravely concerned that the small steps taken in the past few years to open opportunities for women in Afghanistan could be undone by secret government concessions to Taliban insurgents. The Taliban denied women the right to work, receive an education, or even leave their homes during the militia’s five-year rule.
“What we have to establish is what assurances are there for the rights of women and children.”
Women have seen many successes in Afghanistan that has a parliament flooded with misogynists, with thanks to Fawzia and her peers. They blocked a bid to reform the Taliban’s “vice and virtue” police, they stopped a ban on “offensive traditions and Western Culture,” which would have made it illegal for unrelated men and women to speak to one another in the street. But a recent UN report said that the Afghan government has “not yet succeeded” in implementing a two-year-old law intended to protect women from abuse, including rape, forced marriage, and the trading of women to settle disputes. The report says the law is enforced by authorities in only a small percentage of cases and was produced shortly before the case of a 19-year-old Afghan rape victim named Gulnaz, who was forced to marry her rapist, hit the headlines around the world.
As a young woman in a traditionally conservative country, Fawzia has battled male domination, the frustration of men’s selective religious interpretation on the rights of women and the power struggle between men and women and generations old and new. She is an inspiration in her work for women’s rights and will be a central figure in key decisions relating to women when Afghanistan’s new society is formed.