At a forum organized by the National Organization for Women (NOW) on Saturday night, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan’s U.S. representative spoke of her own lifelong struggle against the Taliban, as well as her reservations about the ability of the Northern Alliance to affect positive change for Afghan women.
“The Northern Alliance are just as misogynistic and brutal as the Taliban, but they deceive the international community to think otherwise by wearing suits and speaking Western languages,” said the representative, Tameenah, who is unable to be photographed or use her last name due to security concerns.
“The campaign against terrorism and for women’s rights will not get anywhere unless non-fundamentalists come to power.”
Tameenah said the Northern Alliance needs to be disarmed and tried before the International Court of Law.
“The Northern Alliance has been committing war crimes since 1996,” she said. “Women are even more afraid of the Northern Alliance than the Taliban.”
The fundraising event bought together two national leaders, NOW’s recently elected President Kim Gandy and RAWA representative Tameenah. About 40 people were in attendance, including local academics, artists, and members of the Boston NOW chapter. Andrea Lee, Boston’s NOW president, said the intention of the evening was to support and educate, but also to draw ideas for NOW’s future policy stance on the war in Afghanistan.
“We are in this frustrating position where we have been trying to draw attention to the crisis of women in Afghanistan for many years, but now we don’t want it to be used in a disingenuous way,” Lee said.
In her speech, Gandy drew links between the struggle of women in the Western world for liberation during the 1970s and the challenges that women of Afghanistan face today.
She also criticized the Bush administration’s response to Sept. 11.
“Suddenly, Bush has discovered the women of Afghanistan which we’ve been worried about since 1996,” Gandy said. “It’s a way of rallying the troops around by promoting a popular cause, but in reality, women’s voices have been cut off since the terrorist attacks.”
She pointed out that there were no Afghan women involved “even in the discussions currently going on about the new regime.”
Tameenah went further, arguing that as the transition from Taliban to Northern Alliance rule takes place, the country is simply moving from one dictatorship to another. Democracy has been left aside in the current negotiation process taking place, she said.
“Democracy is as vital to us as clothing, shelter, and food,” she said. “It’s not just women who are being excluded. It’s all of civil society that is being kept away from the table.”
Tameenah said she was only a child when the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan in 1979. Following the occupation, her family fled to Pakistan. They have been based there ever since, with Tameenah’s family involved in teaching refugees and Tameenah devoting her life to RAWA.
“We [RAWA] have evolved as a political humanitarian, peaceful, anti-fundamentalist, feminist organization,” Tameenah said. The group, established in 1977, has the objective of involving an increasing number of Afghan women in social and political activities aimed at acquiring women’s human rights, and contributing to the struggle for the establishment of a government based on secular and democratic values.
“RAWA had anticipated something of the nature of Sept. 11 ever since the Taliban came to power,” Tameenah said. “When a group in power is so anti-civilization, anti-education, anti-women, it is clear that they do not care about anyone.”
During the question-and-answer session which followed her speech, Tameenah stressed that concerned individuals within the U.S. and elsewhere could take positive steps to help improve the lives of Afghan women in a tangible way.
“People can purchase RAWA handicrafts. We sell products made by Afghan women and send the money back to RAWA to help fund our educational and humanitarian work. They can also visit our website—our link to the world—to keep informed,” Tameenah said.