Human rights activist delivers talk on future of women in Afghanistan
By Robin Arthur
Sally Armstrong—journalist, author and human rights activist—delivered a talk in Halifax on the future of girls and women in Afghanistan at a forum at the Mount on May 3.
Armstrong has been documenting stories in Afghanistan since 1996 and is also the author of The Hidden Power of Women in Afghanistan.
Speaking in today’s context, she said women’s issues whether in Afghanistan, Africa, Asia or the MidEast has moved into the limelight. “In all of these areas people today are issuing a clarion call for change. For the first time, people with the power to change are listening to women” she said.
She made the point that the World Bank has even got the message: you educate a girl and she changes the world. She referenced people like Jeffrey Sachs and Hillary Clinton who have spoken of world economies and women’s participatory roles being inseparable.
Clinton is reported to have said: “There are 39 civil wars being waged in the world. The things that start civil wars are poverty, the lack of education and the oppression of women.”
The world can no longer afford to oppress half it’s population, Armstrong said. She also talked about the fact that all along, the world had stood back from interfering in countries abusing women’s rights on the argument that “this is their culture.”
But she quoted Farida Shaheed, a Pakistani woman activist who said: “If your culture oppresses women, change it.” Armstrong points out that what’s happening in Afghanistan is not cultural, it’s criminal.
Women have been subject to female genital mutilation and rape in Africa, to honour killings in Pakistan, to violence in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.
Armstrong thinks all of this may soon be history. “What we are witnessing is the dawning of a new age and women are the new revolutionaries,” she said.
“The world would be a more peaceful place if women were in charge. That is because for women, security means more than the absence of war.”
She says change is evidenced in Afghanistan and she points to a young Afghan lass, who supports five of her brothers and told Armstrong: “I am going to find a school, I will learn to read and write and then stop what’s happening to women in this country.”
Armstrong also pointed to another 21-year old Afghan woman, Noor Jehan Akbar, who has started an organization “Women for Change” in downtown Kabul.
Politicians, she says, have hijacked Afghanistan’s culture and religion. “President Karzai has been selling the country’s women down the river,” she said, making reference to the Afghan code drafted by the so-called religious men that was taken to President Karzai for formal recognition. The code deemed that men are fundamental and women are secondary and that the beating of women is acceptable.
She said, there is violence in every family in Afghanistan. Forced marriages, honour killings, beatings are some of the things, Noor Jehan’s organization is looking to put an end to, she said. “They have been marching on the streets to halt the harassment women suffer.”
Until now, Afghan women have suffered from “blind literacy”, Armstrong says. “Thugs have kept them uneducated, so they could not see what was happening. But now it’s women who can get Afghanistan out of this abyss,” she said. “It’s the women who are effecting change, making their governments accountable.”
The forum was organized in partnership with the Atlantic Chapter of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, whose mission is to alleviate conditions of poverty in Afghanistan through programs that advance education for women and to educate and increase the understanding of Canadians about human rights in Afghanistan.
Goals: To ensure effective long-term sustainable education programs for Afghan women and their families and to engage Canadians as global citizens.