Monday, July 30, 2012

Struggle....even at the doorsteps

This evening I was returning home from a tough day of struggle. A morning that started hearing about the uncertain future of the country's National Human Rights Commission, one of the few semi-government institutions that support us activists and civil society, continued with a review of one of the projects I am supporting in Kunduz and Hirat provinces in which we are tracking the cases of violence against women, and just reviewing 45 cases reported in three weeks in one province, horrified me. There are hundreds of other cases that never get registered nor those silent victims have ever the opportunity to complain to a women's affairs office in their province. The afternoon was spent in another struggle of trying to find a DNA testing facility for a woman whose husband has accused her that their second child, is not his. He is powerful and can easily prove that, and our legal system that is inherently a woman's enemy, wont think twice before convicting her guilty, in which her whole life will be destroyed. Some even say that she would be stoned to death if the husband can prove that the child isnt his child.

So was very tired, angry and thirsty, as we are fasting this month. A fasting that hardly means anything more than just not eating or not drinking. Allah knows if this kind of fasting will ever have any rewards, but we all continue with the pretense at least. As the car entered into our neighborhood, and was getting near my home, I noticed a group of around 4-5 guys surrounding a little young girl and she was crying. As I got closer, I saw that the girl is holding the pieces of bread that she is taking home and these guys who might be around 18-22 years are teasing her, one trying to pull her hair, another pulling the bread, another pulling her hands and she was crying and holding the bread onto her chest. I cant remember how i jumped out of the car, and when the car stopped and in matter of seconds I was there shouting and yelling on these guys who distanced from her as they saw me screaming on them. I dont remember what I was telling them but tried to console the little girl, she might have been around 10 years of age and wiped her tears. 

My screams and yelling drew attention and I saw the guards of the neighborhood and some men who came to me asking whether the guys were teasing me. But I told them if you have a little bit of gut in you and if you have a daughter and cant see her abused by such kind of guys, then dont let these guys escape and just get away with such a crime. I am not a violent person at all, I fight for non violence and human rights of individuals and women but I dont know what made me urge these men to not let the young guys teasing the little girl to just go away as nothing had happened. In a matter of seconds, I noticed the guards and the men beating the hell of the 5 guys and the the guards took them away , I guess to the police or maybe to just take them out of the neighborhood. I asked the little girl who was trembling of fear where was her home and she kept requesting that please dont let my father know what happened here because he will beat me alot. I took her near to her apartment and didnt go with her so that the family dont even notice anything strange. She entered her house, still holding the pieces of bread on her chest. 

The time had come for breaking the fast but the fearful face of this young little girl became another nightmare to me and kept thinking about her the whole evening. What if they had touched her somewhere, what if they could take her away because it was evening and not alot of people would notice, what if they had raped her, what if I didnt notice it, what if...what if...the questions kept torturing me as I was looking at the young girls in my own family. How will we protect them from these wolves right outside homes...sometimes these little girls are not even safe inside home. How long will this situation continue? What happened to the guys, I am sure they are roaming free around and they would be teasing another girl at the next available many of these guys are around..countless. 

It's all dark around as I see the neighborhood outside my window. Hearing the roar of the men chit chatting with each other with no fear....seeing some old men drinking tea right outside their apartments after the Iftar ( breaking fast) but am thinking why cant we have a similarly safe and enabling environment for our girls and women, why cant we just sit outside our apartments and drink tea without even worrying that we are being stared at, or not even worrying that our husbands, fathers, brothers wont allow us to do so. But am still haunted by the thoughts of the little girl and the scene I witnessed this evening while returning home. Didnt tell anyone at mom is always worried that I have turned into a rebel and this is the end of life for a girl in this society. Even if I had shared at home, my father would've become angrier and he would never allow the little girls to get out of home, because he still thinks to protect yourselves just stay away from wolves of the society and that means, stay home, stay inside. 

There is no end or no break to our struggles. Outside and inside home, but always keep things to ourselves because in this society you are not allowed to share how you feel or what happens inside your home, if you do, you are no more a socially acceptable woman and the attitudes will never give you the courage to do so. So some of us just keep struggling and fighting until we can and when we cant anymore, we just vanish into darkness , who would notice...maybe no one. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Our voices are not stoned to death!!!

On Friday, 06 July 2012, Ms Fawzia Koofi, one of the prominent female MPs called and with a disturbingly quiet tone asked whether I knew about the Parwan incident. I said Yes, saw a tweet from one of the BBC journalists but dont know if its true or not. She said its true and she saw the video. After we both mourned the incident, she said if women dont stand all these violence, we will all face this fate, one by one. We hanged on the phone and I started digging deeper to find out what happened. 

Though, we still dont know the exact account of the heinous act of violence and oppression that we all witnessed in that video- we are all so shocked & furious over the fact that najiba  was brutally murdered. No matter who did it, that does not make any difference. The information that we have been able to obtain to date is that Najiba, 21 year old who was either kidnapped or forced to come to the house of one of the armed commanders (apparently a taleb as the Parwan governor emphasizes) and when the chief of their armed group found out, the commanders who had forced her, stoned her and shot her 9 times in front of a cheering crowd of 150-180 people and accused her of adultery. 

We should've all got out on the streets the moment we watched the video, its the most horrific site I witnessed after a similar incident in which the Taleban stoned Zarmina & then shot her numerous times in the Kabul's Sports Gymnasium. As a young girl in that age, I was not able to sleep for weeks as the sight of a burqa-clud Zarmina in blood, had occupied my brain. Even after the formal fall of the Taleban regime in 2001, we have had a number of similar stoning and shooting the woman for adultery charges. While in no Jirga (the tribal court) the man who should've been equally treated ( As Quran says) if she was proved to be an adulterous. Just two months before in Gardez, a woman was stoned & shot, following the stoning of a couple in Kunduz last year. 

Najiba's oppression & murder is not new for the women of Afghanistan nor for the people in this country who have seen wars and bloodshed for years now. However, the stoning & shooting a woman 9 times is an extremely alerting and shocking news for everyone in this war torn country, especially when the political reconciliation with the group who has been accused of committing these crimes, is ongoing, with the support of the international community. 

The three of us (women activists) who are dealing with Lal Bibi's case were similarly annoyed and furious. None of us slept for days thinking and working around some of the lucky cases that are able to come to us and seek help. There are millions of women who are tortured, killed, raped and vanish in the darkness and we dont even know their names. So the ones who come to us for help, I guess must be among the lucky ones, who can actually use the limited resources and dare to think a bit different than the silence majority. 

We decided to mobilize a number of women organizations so we started calling around and talking to women organizations and some activists. While some were scared of any public reactions, many supported the idea of a peaceful rally. In less than half a day we arranged for a rally and march that should start from the Ministry of Women's Affairs towards the President's Office. One day before the rally we had to create banners, and we started brainstorming some slogans that could've put us in huge risk in any normal circumstances due to their religious nature, but we finally agreed on some and our young painters worked all night to prepare the banners and posters. 

The night before the rally, many friends and some of the senior officials that I know personally called and warned that if anything happens to anyone in this rally, we will be held responsible because we can be easily target of a suicide bomber who can enter the rally and we wouldnt even notice it before we are vanished into pieces. I kept calling the Kabul Police Chief who extended huge support to us in terms of providing security to the rally and the last call was with Mary ( my friend and colleague with whom we arranged the rally) at around 2 am who was equally worried. 

On the morning of Wednesday, July 11 I prayed around 4.30 am and started reciting some verses from Quran and sought HIS help. We are not scared of death because who knows when any of us is the next target but I really cant see the hundreds of women and young men who have promised to show up and support the rally. At 9 am many of us were at the Ministry of Women's Affairs Compound and found out that the government had warned the female ministers and any of the government senior officials not to participate in the rally because its against all protocols of government, because this rally would criticize the government and its officials shouldn't be there. But we still didnt feel disappointed and started mobilizing ourselves at around 9.30 am on the road. 

By 10.30 am we got around 300 young men, women protesting the incident and calling on the government for quick action. The rally declared any Tribal Court illegal and demanded justice for Najiba and other women who are victims of our silence. It was so encouraging to see so many young men standing in the first rows vowing to support the women who are on the streets by putting their lives in the front lines of the rally. These are the hopes for the future of Afghanistan - we didnt have such a male mobilization at least 5 years ago. 

The rally was also joined by one of the country's prominent women, Dr Sima Samar who leads the country's Independent Human Rights Commission, and her presence on the streets standing with all of us and supporting us, gave powers and courage to many women who were rallying under their blue burqa's and behind their black and white veils, covering their faces so that the passer by doesnt recognize them, who knows one of those passer by would be their brother, husband, or a close relative. 

We concluded the rally at around 11.30 am in front of the UNAMA office that leads the road towards the president office and demanded quick actions from the government on the incident perpetrators. Later that day, the governor of Parwan announced that there is a special force that is now searching for the perpetrators, and the President condemned the incident personally as well. But will we get any clues on who did this - and where are they in this life before another of us becomes another prey- time will tell.