Watching things get worse
Date: Tuesday, November 28 2006
Two more Canadian soldiers have died for the lie that the occupiers are bringing democracy to Afghanistan.
The Guardian -- London -- Tuesday November 28 2006
'We are just watching things get worse'
By Natasha Walter.
When Britain and America went into Afghanistan in 2001, they claimed
that the liberation of the country's burka-shrouded women was one of
their top priorities. So did they deliver? Five years on, Natasha
Walter visits Kabul - and is shocked by what she discovers
Five years ago, when the US and the British arrived in Afghanistan,
they sold their mission to us not simply as a way of driving out the
terrorist-shielding Taliban, but also as a way of empowering women.
As Cherie Blair said in November 2001: "We need to help Afghan women
free their spirit and give them their voice back, so they can create
the better Afghanistan we all want to see." Or as George Bush boasted
in December 2001: "Women now come out of their homes from house
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."
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 29, 2006]