Frustration hangs heavy over Afghanistan’s women’s rights struggle, 13 years after Taliban

Published: March 8, 2014

In this Wednesday, March 5, 2014 photo, prominent Afghan women’s rights activist Wazhma Frogh adjusts her scarf during an interview in her office in Kabul, Afghanistan. AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

KATHY GANNON
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

KABUL, Afghanistan — In 2009, the United States gave Wazhma Frogh the International Woman of Courage award for her women’s rights activism in Afghanistan. Prominently displayed in Frogh’s office is a picture of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton granting her the award as First Lady Michelle Obama smiles, clapping by her side.

Four years later, the United States denied her a visa when she was trying to get away from an Afghan militia commander who she says was persecuting her.

For Frogh, the experience underlined the state of the women’s rights movement in her country. Thirteen years after the fall of the Taliban, billions of dollars have been spent, the West and the Afghan government have offered countless words of support, yet the successes that have been achieved remain vulnerable. Ultimately, women still have nowhere to turn when their battle for equal rights puts them on the firing line, she said.

“They give you an award but they don’t support you when you need them,” she told The Associated Press. “I always thought that if my government didn’t help me I would always be able to turn to the United States. I never thought that they would turn their back on me.”

Gains have been made. Gone are the rules imposed by the Taliban forcing women to wear the all-encompassing burqa and barring girls from school. Now, as many as 4 million girls are in school, and women sit in Afghanistan’s parliament.

But Frogh and other women’s rights activists said those changes, while important, are superficial. Women’s equality was a priority when the memory of the Taliban was fresh, but over the years the commitment has waned. It became a mantra recited by the Afghan government and non-government organizations to get international funding, and a flag for Western governments to wave as a symbol of success over the Taliban, said Frogh and Afghan parliamentarian, Fawzia Koofi.

“Women’s rights is the most politicized issue in Afghanistan, before even talks with the Taliban, and I am not happy with it,” said Koofi, referring to the Afghan government’s attempts to negotiate with Taliban insurgents, raising women activists’ fears authorities will compromise on their rights if necessary to reach a deal.

Koofi said she is proud and grateful for the successes, but “after 13 years I am still being forced to ask for my basic rights.”

Many of the victories have major caveats. Girls are back in school, but most are pulled out by their families as they near puberty to ready them for marriage, she said.

A hard-fought Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women was passed. More women are reporting cases of abuse and are aware of their right to speak out, said Georgette Gagnon, director of Human Rights with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

But, she said, few cases make it to court and prosecution is rare. Instead most end up in mediation, often through jirgas — a traditional council of elders — or other community councils, which rarely work in favour of the woman.

“Often this mediation doesn’t fully protect woman’s rights and often leads to more violence against the woman,” said Gagnon.

In this Friday, March 7, 2014 photo, Afghan women cross a cemetery in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan. AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

The few Afghan businesswomen are paraded as success stories, while women are still having their lips cut off for perceived offences, as happened recently in northern Afghanistan, said Frogh.

More than 80 per cent of the women in prisons are jailed for so-called “moral crimes,” like leaving an abusive husband. Shelters for abused women have been set up, but most men in conservative Afghanistan, even those in the Ministry of Interior, see shelters as “immoral,” and women who seek sanctuary there are often banished from their communities, Frogh said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s first Cabinet featured five female members, the next only two. The quota for women in district councils was 25 per cent, but has been reduced to 20 per cent. The government set up a Women’s Affairs Ministry but doesn’t give it the money to hire the staff it needs.

Frogh’s Women Peace and Security Research Institute works with the Interior Ministry to get more women in ministry jobs and holds training sessions with policewomen, many of whom face sexual harassment. Frogh counsels women on their rights, and her institute compiles statistics and researches abuses against women.

Last year, she tried to go temporarily to the U.S. to gain some distance from a militia commander who she says was terrorizing her after she identified him in a report to NATO as a repetitive rights violator.

The commander had her followed. He drowned her in text messages, warning that he knew her every move. Frogh said she would be at the airport and a text message would arrive from the commander: “Welcome home.”

He threatened her sisters and paid her neighbours to complain to the police, alleging that the many women who visited her office were immoral, Frogh says. She had to relocate her office.

Aware of the harassment, the U.S- based Institute of Inclusive Security invited Frogh to spend six to 12 months as a visiting fellow. Frogh said she was told the visa was denied because of fears she would overstay. But she said she neither wanted asylum nor to overstay her visa, only a respite from the harassment.

The U.S. Embassy spokesman in Kabul, Robert B. Hilton, refused to comment, saying the embassy does not discuss visa matters.

“Certainly, we were disappointed when her visa was denied,” Evelyn Thornton, chief executive officer of the institute told The AP. “We have enormous respect for Ms. Frogh’s activism for human rights, peace, and security in Afghanistan. She’s a courageous leader who has made a significant difference in the lives of many.”

Finally, Frogh’s family turned to a traditional Jirga to mediate with the commander, offering a number of goats and cows in exchange for his forgiveness, the activist says.

“I was forced to apologize to someone who was ruining my life and, on a daily basis, the lives of other people, including women,” Frogh said. “If I had to apologize to someone who abuses our rights, and I met the wife of the president of the United States, what hope does an Afghan woman in a village have?”

Mary Akrami, head of the Afghan Women Skilled Development Centers, said a long-term approach is needed to women’s rights, one that goes beyond the cycle of waxing and waning interest.

“We want a clear commitment. We want women’s issues separated from political issues,” she said.

Frogh advocated a “less sexy” approach, one that doesn’t bask in quick fixes and feel-good moments, but does the hard work of finding solutions for women within the family, giving them a voice in the home and protection outside.

“We made a big mistake isolating women and not looking at the woman within the structure of the family, as mother, sister, wife, and involving the whole family,” she said. “So the men are often against the rights of women because they see them as against the family.”

———-

Kathy Gannon is the AP special regional correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed on www.twitter.com/kathygannon

05:46ET 08-03-14

[+]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,



Readers Comments (0)

Comments are closed.

Featured

Abbotsford's Ravinder Singh Atwal has been identified online as the truck driver who died in a truck crash on Highway 99 near Delta on Wednesday. The Abbotsford father was killed when his dump truck hit the highway median and burst into flames. Submitted photo/Facebook.

Abbotsford trucker killed on Hwy 99 remembered ‘as one of the nicest guys’

GLENDA LUYMES VANCOUVER DESI An Abbotsford father killed in a fiery crash on Highway 99 is being remembered as hard-working and friendly by fellow truck…
Continue Reading »

A man reads the latest issue of French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo bearing a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed at a French bookseller in Abidjan on January 19, 2015. SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

Mumbai police arrest newspaper editor for reprinting Charlie Hebdo cartoon

VANCOUVER DESI Mumbai police have arrested and since bailed out the editor of an Urdu language newspaper for reprinting a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the…
Continue Reading »

Indian spectators watch as a float carrying a sign that reads "Congratulations! It's a Baby Girl" passes by during the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2015. The float represented India's Ministry of Women and Child Development.  An estimated 26 million babies are born anually in India, a country considered to be one of the worst places to be born a girl because of a societal 'gender gap' that favours boys and preferences for male children. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Father in India arrested for attempted murder after trying to bury his daughter alive

VANCOUVER DESI A father in India has been arrested for attempted murder after he tried to bury his 10-year-old daughter alive, according to Britain’s Daily…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

Abbotsford's Ravinder Singh Atwal has been identified online as the truck driver who died in a truck crash on Highway 99 near Delta on Wednesday. The Abbotsford father was killed when his dump truck hit the highway median and burst into flames. Submitted photo/Facebook.

Abbotsford trucker killed on Hwy 99 remembered ‘as one of the nicest guys’

GLENDA LUYMES VANCOUVER DESI An Abbotsford father killed in a fiery crash on Highway 99 is being remembered as hard-working and friendly by fellow truck…
Continue Reading »

Opposition Muted to Harper’s New Anti Terror Bill

BY Ujjal Dosanjh Special to Vancouver Province I smell an election coming. Not in October 2015; much sooner than that. Harper has just unveiled the…
Continue Reading »

Opposition parties treading carefully on new anti-terror legislation

By Stephanie Levitz THE CANADIAN PRESS OTTAWA — Anti-terrorism legislation introduced by the Conservative government Friday received a cautious reception by the opposition parties who…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Vancouver-BC

Raise your hand, send us a selfie and make a statement against racism (with video)

VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver Desi’s digital anti-racism campaign, Raise Your Hands Against Racism, officially kicked off Thursday, with people across the Lower Mainland sending in selfies…
Continue Reading »

File photo: Commuters hang by doors of a crowded local train in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Three men were killed on Monday after they attempted to take a selfie by a moving train near Agra. AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

College students killed while attempting train selfie in India

VANCOUVER DESI Three college friends on their way to India’s Republic Day celebrations were killed by a speeding train after they tried posing for a…
Continue Reading »

Screen shot of Shah Rukh Khan's first video tweet. Submitted.

Shah Rukh Khan sends out India’s first tweet using Twitter’s new mobile video camera

VANCOUVER DESI Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was the first-ever Indian to use Twitter’s freshly launched mobile video camera. Twitter announced the new feature on…
Continue Reading »

Indian spectators watch as a float carrying a sign that reads "Congratulations! It's a Baby Girl" passes by during the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2015. The float represented India's Ministry of Women and Child Development.  An estimated 26 million babies are born anually in India, a country considered to be one of the worst places to be born a girl because of a societal 'gender gap' that favours boys and preferences for male children.  ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

India’s Supreme Court bans online advertisements for pre-birth sex tests

VANCOUVER DESI India’s Supreme Court has ordered Internet giants Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to block all advertisements for pre-birth tests that determine a child’s gender,…
Continue Reading »

sethi

American Punjabi rapper feels at home in Vancouver

Collaborative hip hop and artistic group Char Bagh set to play the PuSh Festival on Saturday   LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI California-based MC and artist…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Akshay Kumar

Askhay Kumar offers martial arts training to visually impaired girls

PRASHANT SINGH HINDUSTAN TIMES Last year, Akshay Kumar — who was a professional martial arts trainer before he started acting — launched an initiative to…
Continue Reading »

Shah Rukh Khan (L) and Kajol (R) are rumoured to be appearing in the next Rohit Shetty film. Getty Images.

Rohit Shetty tightlipped on SRK, Kajol casting rumours

IANS Mumbai — Bollywood’s blockbuster director Rohit Shetty is remaining tightlipped on rumours he’s managed to rope in a casting coup of Shah Rukh Khan…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood sex

Sonam Kapoor never planned to use her father’s fame to jumpstart her Bollywood career

IANS Mumbai  – It’s always thought that Bollywood’s star children have it easy, but actress Sonam Kapoor says that at the start of her film…
Continue Reading »