Watching Things Get Worse

Posted on Tuesday, November 28 at 10:36 by Ed Deak
Five years on, however, the Blairs and the Bushes have become less vocal about the women whom we were meant to have liberated. Bush has not commented on the fact that the majority of girls in Afghanistan still cannot go to school. When Tony Blair visited Kabul earlier this month, he did not comment on the recent report by one charity, Womankind Worldwide, which stated: "It cannot be said that the status of Afghan women has changed significantly in the last five years." I went to Afghanistan soon after the Taliban had been ousted from Kabul, and found that their departure was genuinely allowing women to hope again - even in places where you might have thought all hope would have died. I remember interviewing women in the very first post- Taliban Loya jirga (grand assembly), who said: "The doors of everything have been closed to women for so long. Now we hope the doors are swinging open." One of the places that stuck most clearly in my mind was a dirt-poor village called Sar Asia, on the outskirts of Kabul. There I met women who had been unable to leave their houses for education during the Taliban regime, who had just set up a literacy course with the help of Rawa, the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan. When I asked the students, who ranged from 13-year-old girls to 50-year- old widows, if they thought all women in Afghanistan wanted more freedom and equality, my translator struggled to keep up with the clamour: "Of course we do," said one widow furiously. "Even women who are not allowed to come to this class want that. But our husbands and brothers and fathers don't want it. The mullahs keep saying freedom is not good for us." Over the past few years, as news from Afghanistan has become less positive, I have been wondering what had happened to these women. Last month I was able to revisit the country, and one of the first things I did was to go back to Sar Asia. The teacher invited me back into the room that once had been crowded with women learning to read. This time, the room is empty, its net curtains closed against the bright sun. "We're not teaching here any more," the teacher - I'll call her Alya, because she has asked me not to use her real name now - tells me sadly, sitting alone on the cushions on the floor. "They were threatening us, telling us not to do it any more, and we were scared. For a while we continued, but we were afraid that they might do something worse. This place is a place of Taliban. Neighbours may work for the government in the morning but at night they are the same Taliban with the same thoughts." I tell her I remember the enthusiasm of the women in the course four years ago. "Yes, we were very happy. Rawa members came and talked about how they could help us to make a literacy course for women. We were all very pleased. But that has stopped now. I think in the west you think that now conditions are good here, that everyone can go to school or go to work for the government. But now we are just watching things get worse." http://www.guardian.co.uk/afghanistan/story/0,,1958707,00.html [Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 29, 2006]

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