“Afghan women are like sleeping lions, when awoken, they can play a wonderful role in any social revolution.”
– Meena Keshwar Kamal(1956-1987)
“If elected I will face up to the old men with guns that destroyed our country. Now it is our turn to fight with them.”
– Sabrina Sagheb – age 25
Sabrina Sagheb represents the sleeping lion now awaking for a fight throughout Afghanistan. This 25-year-old parliamentary candidate in the 2005 elections campaigned on a platform of liberal reform and gender equality, with a campaign poster that raised more than a few eyebrows across Kabul. The term ‘charm offensive’ sums it up best. A beautiful and modern young woman, educated in Iran, she hoped to make the wearing of the burkha a matter of choice for all women and advocates an end to forced marriages. She lost, but became a symbol of women’s rights a mere 4 years after the Taliban were pushed aside.
In a time where female candidates, activists, and leaders are routinely targeted, attacked, and assassinated, its hard to not swell with pride when more young women like Sabrina stand up today and publicly voice their dissent. When conservative critics voice their disgust with her campaign and call her ‘un-Islamic’ in hopes of getting her to back down, she calmly replies, “If you are not happy with me, then don’t vote for me.”
But there are men that will be. Young men like Muhammad Naseen, who are ready for a change, regardless of gender. “We have already voted in a lot of men. Now it is time for change.”
Change like that of another candidate in Herat, Nahid Ahmadi Farid, a young lioness of one, who enters the fray armed with a political science degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“We don’t want regrets and we don’t want to suffer another five years. We don’t want the same problems again,” Farid says. “I have stood up because of the problems Afghan women are facing. We have been behind walls for the past 30 years and no one was listening to our voice.
These women, and others like them across the country are taking enormous risks to themselves and their families to fight for equality and a brighter future for their country. They fight against the decades of oppression forced upon them during the Soviet and Taliban times. They fight against the corruption and abuse in the current government that only last year signed into law a bill that essentially legalized marital rape.
They have a role model in Meena Keshwar Kamal, the passionate founder of RAWA, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, assassinated in 1987. She was an outspoken activist and feminist that founded the organization in 1977 when she was still a student at Kabul University. RAWA’s manifesto is to promote equality and education for women and strive to “give voice to the deprived and silenced women of Afghanistan.” The organization still operates today, underground, under great risk, but also with great success, running orphanages and schools under different names to avoid attack. Meetings are held in secret locations, always changing, to continue the work Meena started, despite the risks.
Meena’s assassination at only 30 years old, did not deter RAWA, and their statement regarding her death demonstrates that her warrior spirit lives on. “The enemy was rightly shivering with fear by the love and respect that Meena was creating within the hearts of our people. They knew that within the fire of her fights all the enemies of freedom, democracy and women would be turned to ashes.”
That fire is sparking again after the Taliban systemically fought to repress it and the Karzai government refuses to enforce the constitutional rights afforded them since their defeat. Women activists are breathing life into the dormant coals and finding that there are others ready to fight alongside them. It is up to all of us to not just encourage that fight, but to take up arms alongside them.