D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Arlington County Board Member Walter Tejada (D) join the Politics Hour crew in the studio.
Afghanistan dominates U.S. policy, but rarely do American citizens get to speak directly to Afghans. In partnership with America Abroad and Killid Radio Afghanistan, Kojo hosts a special broadcast in which students, activists, government officials, and ordinary citizens discuss the status of women in Afghanistan today, and what role the international community should play going forward.
- Safia Sidiqi Women's rights activist; former Afghan parliament member; former Secretary and Assistant of Afghanistan Constitutional Loya Jirga.
- Sima Samar Chair, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; United Nations Special Reporter on human rights in Sudan
- Michelle Barsa Lead Advocate on Afghanistan, Institute for Inclusive Security.
- Anita McBride US-Afghan Women's Council; Executive-in-Residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University's School of Public Affairs; Senior Advisor to the George W. Bush Foundation; former Chief of Staff to Mrs. Laura Bush.
- Akmal Dawi Editor for the English language Killid Magazine.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, American Abroad Media and Killid Radio Afghanistan, I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Welcome to "Joined By War: Women's Rights In Today's Afghanistan." For nearly a decade, Americans and Afghans have been joined by conflict. In the first years of the war, images of a liberated Afghanistan with gleaming new girl schools were a heartening change from the years of Taliban brutality, a time when women couldn't leave the house unless covered head to toe in a burqa and accompanied by a male relative.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINews reports show that local laws have again become more conservative. And with talk of reconciliation with the Taliban, some wonder will Afghan women's rights become the ultimate casualty as U.S. troops search for the exit from Afghanistan. This hour, an audience here at the Katzen Art Center at American University in Washington, D.C., we'll talk with Afghan women in Kabul about life before, during and after Taliban rule.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWell, joining us to have this conversation from Afghanistan is our host in Afghanistan, Akmal Dawi. He is a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations in Afghanistan and Akmal is editor for the English language, Killid Magazine. Akmal Dawi, hopefully you can hear me very well. How are you?
MR. AKMAL DAWII am very good, thank you very much. As you rightly say, it is the exact time to talk about the very key issue in Afghanistan. And in a particular time that we are facing, we are starting our transition process hopefully in the coming one or two months. And within that broad debate is the issue of women's rights. It's a very, very important issue for the Afghan woman. Today, here we have two guests with me in Kabul. To my left is Dr. Sima Samar, the chairperson of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, a lady that is well known across the world
MR. AKMAL DAWISo we will have her analysis on the situation of women here. And to my right is, Safia Sidiqi, a former member of the Afghanistan's National Assembly, the Parliament. She's now active member of the civil society fighting for women's rights and in particular during this transition process. So here we are and we're looking forward to having a very mutually beneficial debate today with Washington.
NNAMDIThank you so much, Akmal. We also have two panelists with us in Washington. To my immediate left is Anita McBride. She is a member of the US-Afghan Women's Council, a public-private partnership between the U.S. and Afghan governments and the executive in resident at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American Universities School of Public Affairs and former chief of staff to Ms. Laura Bush. Anita McBride, welcome, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANITA MCBRIDEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd to my far left is Michelle Barsa. Michelle is the lead advocate on Afghanistan at the Institute for Inclusive Security. She focuses on expanding the role for women in Afghanistan's peace and reconstruction processes. Michelle, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. MICHELLE BARSAThanks for having me.
NNAMDII'll start the question with you -- the questions with you, Michelle. You spent almost two years living in Afghanistan and you returned to advocate for an expanded role for women in Afghanistan's peace and reconstruction processes. What's the concept and promise of Inclusive Security and have you seen it work in the Afghan context?
BARSASure, it's a fair question. Inclusive Security, broadly speaking, is a concept that places social and economic concerns on equal footing with political and military issues and at the same time, uses women in civil society as the primary agents for realizing peace and security in the long term. So based on that premise, the idea is that you need to include all stake holders, both armed and unarmed actors, and all faith of the peace process, everything from negotiation of the peace accord to post conflict reconstruction if the hope is ultimately to attain a sustainable peace, something that's not just defined as the absence of war, but actually create space for positive and progressive social economic and political development.
NNAMDIAnita, you made multiple trips to Afghanistan with first lady Laura Bush and you've remained active with the US-Afghan Women's Council. What is it? What did you see on your trips that motivated you to continue with this cause?
MCBRIDEWell, I think Afghan women are among the most courageous women that I've met in the world. And I'm very much encouraged by the fact that Afghan women, they want to do this for themselves. They don't want to return to the life that they had, the brutal repression that they faced under the Taliban. They don't want to be seen as victims. They want a hand up, not a hand out. I think they implore us for their -- for patience with them. And I think, as western women, it's very difficult to turn a blind eye to the fact of what would happen to Afghan women if they were to go back to the brutal policies of the past.
NNAMDIWe go now to our host in Afghanistan, Akmal Dawi. Akmal?
DAWIYeah, Kojo, thank you very much. And I was told that in Kabul with our guest Dr. Samar. Dr. Samar, you have been -- you have played a key role in the post Taliban Afghanistan. Are you satisfied with what has happened inside Afghanistan to improve the living conditions of Afghan women?
MS. SIMA SAMARWell, first of all, good afternoon to all the Afghan audience and then good morning to the American audience. And thank you very much for having me here. I think there's no doubt there's a lot of improvement has been achieved in Afghanistan on women's rights. If you look at the access to education, we have more than two million girls going to school. We have a lot of girls who are going to universities. And also they have the right to work in different sectors of the society.
MS. SIMA SAMARBut it's all -- it's mainly limited in the cities, not in that rural area in Afghanistan. But it is not satisfactory for the Afghan women because it was a lot of promises to Afghan women and we have not really received those support. I think the women's rights, as half of the population in the country is crucial, we cannot really say, use Afghan women or Afghan women's rights as a token for some small changes that, yes, we see here and there. If you look at the previous cabinet, for example, it was only one women.
MS. SIMA SAMARAnd that is the Ministry of Women's Affairs. And then, if any Afghan men is there to accept that position, they will give it to a man. So we don't have enough political commitment from our own government in our (word?) first of all. And secondly, it's not enough commitment by their international community odds. But I have to say that I don't think we will give up what we achieve.
DAWIDefinitely not. Safia, Dr. Samar was talking about achievements that women have made in Afghanistan over the past 10 years. What are the challenges that are still remaining that have to be tackled?
MS. SAFIA SIDIQIThank you very much. First of all, I would like to say, (speaks foreign language) to my Afghan audience on Kalach. And good morning to the people whom you're on the side of the satellite in the States. First of all, I would like to support Dr. Samar for what you -- she said before. I think we are not new. We are not only 10 years old, born baby. Because, you know, the Afghan women, we have got the gray hair and also we have got our own matters whom they have been stifled before. And now we are competing for the democracy, for the rights of women, for almost nine to 10 decades.
MS. SAFIA SIDIQIIt is not only 10 years. For that reason, I think we have some international supporter whom they're helping us, but you know we are not that baby still to be pushed by somebody for our right. It was the voice of the Afghan women whom they made possibility for the Afghan women inside Afghanistan to bring peace, to bring women on the top and also to bring women together with the man. And as a former member of the Parliament, I can tell you that, like, five years ago, six years ago, I, myself, and also the women whom they were candidate or ran for the Parliament from different provinces, we went to all single village to ask them for the vote.
MS. SAFIA SIDIQIAnd also, like, this year, I was run for the Parliament, but unfortunately, I did not win. You know, still, after five years, I went to the people, to my constituents, to the villages, to different districts, even to the places which they did not, like the U.N. and the government of Afghanistan, were not able to go there. And they said, they are not going for voting, not putting the boxes there. But the women like myself, we went there, and also we have talked to the people. We have convinced the people to vote for us. It does mean this is an achievement.
DAWIKojo, you got the sense of how Afghan women perceive their situation. Back to you in Washington.
NNAMDIYou're listening to, "Joined by War: Women's Rights in Today's Afghanistan." Now is the point at which we begin to take questions from our audience here. I know that we have a question from a gentleman right here. Go ahead, please, sir.
FREDINARIANGood morning, Washington, and good evening to Kabul. I'm Fredinarian (sp?) . I would first offer a comment and then I have a question for the panel here and Kabul. Without a doubt, Taliban, they are vicious and barbaric force who have inflicted huge cruelties on woman. But what saddens me is the era of 1992 to '96 which has been just taken out of the Afghan chapter, Afghan history. Nobody talks about it. The cruelties to happened to women and now are happening in Afghanistan today, 11 years old girl is gang-raped by 13 people.
FREDINARIANNobody's talking about it. A nine-year-old is exchanged for a fighting dog. Nobody is talking about it. Taliban, Taliban, Taliban, we know who they are. We know how bad they are and how cruel they are. But there is no one who is going to talk about the warlords, the criminal who dine on the same table with Taliban, violating women's rights. My question is, are you going to take any concrete steps about this? Are you not enraged? Are you not angered by what you're hearing? When are you going to take up a bull step and ask Karzai, enough is enough?
FREDINARIANWhen are you going to take that concrete step?
NNAMDI...let me start with a response from one of our panelists in Washington, Michelle Barsa.
BARSAI completely agree. I mean, we often point to the Taliban taking Kabul in 1996 as the most severe restriction on women's rights and it's true, it was. But the era from 1992 to 1996, as you mentioned, wasn't much better. Women were still dispelled from government positions. There were extreme restrictions placed on the women's movement, the head covering and certain body coverings were mandated as well. And you see a lot of these folks in government today.
BARSAAnd now we have the amnesty law of 2007, which is incredibly problematic in terms of thinking of prosecuting them at this point. I think, realistically, I'm not sure that you're going to see movement on the part of the U.S. or its international allies in terms of seeking prosecution or justice from these actors. And if you look, even now at the constitution of the high peace council, this body that's overseeing the current peace process, the current reconciliation-reintegration effort, I mean, the list reads like a who's who in warlord weekly.
BARSAI mean, that was pretty disturbing to see it come out. And this is who we're now trusting to negotiate peace. That said, I do think it's important to have spoilers actively engaged in the process and to feel some ownership over it. How this will play out in the long term, I'm not sure. I'm positive, though, that Dr. Sima Samar will have some opinions on this.
NNAMDIAnd Akmal, we've already received an indication that a response is expected from Dr. Sima Samar. So go ahead, please.
NNAMDIYes. Dr. Sima Samar, I will have some comments on that particular question.
SAMARThank you very much for this question, actually. I have to say that it's -- the women's right is not violated only during '92 to '96 or '96 after to Taliban time. It continues to violate -- a violation of women's rights in the country. So it's not new. The thing -- the problem, I think, is the lack of insisting or putting accountability and justice overall as the main problem, from my point of view. Because nobody talked about accountability, nobody talked about justice.
SAMARSo what we have done, we brought those warlords and we negotiate with them. One of the reasons that the people try to be with Taliban or go to Taliban for justice is that is the cost. There is a responsibility and the responsibility lie in our Afghan shoulder on Afghan citizens, that we have to raise our voice for accountability and justice.
DAWIAbsolutely, indeed. Kojo, you got some analysis from our guest, Dr. Sima Samar, on why, you know, we're not talking about human rights violations that took place before the Taliban. And this issue of demonizing the Taliban and sticking all problems of Afghanistan only to the Taliban as if before the Taliban everything was fine, is unacceptable. It's perceived that the international community is only here for political (word?) .
DAWIThat's, you know, fighting the Taliban, associating every problem with the Taliban and leaving behind the roots of the problems that have existed in this society for long. So that's an issue that also needs to be addressed both by Afghan leaders and by our international partners.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi and this is a special presentation from WAMU 88.5, America Abroad and Killid Radio Afghanistan.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi and you're listening to "Joined By War: Women's Rights in Today's Afghanistan." This is a special presentation from WAMU 88.5, America Abroad and Killid Radio Afghanistan. Akmal, do you have a member of your audience who has a question for our panelists here?
DAWIYes, we have a question, a gentleman. Could you please introduce yourself?
MOHID BALONI'm Mohid Balon. I'm a conductor and also writer of short stories and novels. I think beside political problems we have a main cultural problem about the women's rights. Because as you know, mother says to her son, hit your wife.
DAWIReally, do mothers say to their sons to hit their wives?
BALONIn many families in Afghanistan. So I think the main problem of our women is cultural, not political. And this will solve the men problem and then we can go to politics and other things.
DAWIMohid, are you married?
DAWIHave you beaten your wife?
DAWINo, your mother didn't tell you to beat your wife.
BALONThat belongs to the man. In many families, we have this problem.
DAWIWho do you want your answers to be answered by?
BALONI think Dr. Sima Samar does have an answer.
DAWIAll right. Okay, Dr. Samar, question to you.
SAMARI think the women issue is political issue. It cannot be only the cultural and family issue. The culture in different countries are also based on the economical and political situation. I mean, we can change the culture. The comment he made is mainly in the families where the level of the education is really low. But even if it's cultural it can be changed through education and empowerment of women in the family.
DAWIThank you very much Dr. Samar. Kojo, we have a question for you for your audience from here. Lady, (speaks foreign language) .
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1Good morning to everyone in the States. My name is Mabuba Surarage. The question I have, it's from the panel because it has to do with the policy of the United States government when it comes to helping the women of Afghanistan. We are under the impression, or at least I am and a quite a bunch of us are like that, that as long is there a problem in Afghanistan that is very, very, how shall I say, newsworthy, as far as women. If somebody's nose is cut off, their faces -- or somebody's ears is cut off or something like that happens, then the whole world pays attention and they send money and they want to help the Afghan women.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1If it's not like that then the whole voice and the cause of the Afghan woman kind of becomes something that is forgotten. As you have heard, what we really need is the Afghan woman empowerment because we need them to be involved in the government. We need them to be involved in decision-making policies of this country. We need for their education level to be higher. We need more women at universities. We need more women lawyers. That is the only way that we can actually help our society. I was just wondering what is the policy of the United States government, as far as sending their help to the Afghan woman is concerned? Is it going to be really for empowering and teaching the Afghan woman? Thank you very much for your time.
NNAMDIThank you very much for that question. I'll direct it first, Anita McBride?
MCBRIDEWell, thank you for giving me an opportunity to comment on that. I think that at the highest levels of our government, including Secretary Clinton, of course, has made very clear her commitment to protecting the security of women and particularly during this peace process. And I think the engagement of women in all sectors of development in Afghan society is critical and essential to foreign policy.
MCBRIDEIn the United States, our people at senior levels and our U.S. Agency for International Development that are working with women and men in Afghanistan but also at the State Department where we have the ambassador for Global Women's Issues, Melanne Verveer, who has made quite clear that women's rights should not be seen as a favor to women.
MCBRIDEIt's critical and integral to the process of development and long-term peace and security and sustainability. Because when women do have economic strength they have a seat at the table. So I think that at all levels of our government it is very clear that women's rights are essential to long-term peace and stability and reconciliation in the country.
MCBRIDEPresident Karzai gave a statistic of 40 percent of the media in Afghanistan are women and on that point I will say I think it's incredibly important that forums like this and others from our American media tell the good stories, tell the stories of success and courage and progress.
NNAMDIBut it's my understanding, Michelle Barsa, that in 2009, President Karzai essentially made a deal with the Taliban and passed a law further restricting rights of women once again in Afghanistan. Is there a certain sensitivity in U.S. foreign policy circles to avoid the appearance of trying to impose Western values on Afghanistan?
BARSAIt's an excellent question. I think there is a sensitivity to it. I think for a long time our notion and conception of Afghan women as victims dominated our understanding of how to support them. So everything was protection focused instead of participation focused. I think that's shifting now because Afghan women have been so prominent in the public sphere in organizing around peace and security issues.
BARSABut still, it's difficult for us to figure out how to effectively navigate the conservative cultural context of Afghanistan. And I think that while we are getting better at engaging women in Kabul, we still have a very limited understanding about how to effectively engage and support the political participation of women in the provinces. And unfortunately, that's still an ongoing learning process for us and we never seem to catch up.
NNAMDIAnd we have a question from our audience here in Washington. Indeed, we have several questions here in Washington who like to ask questions. So I might do a kind of relay from one to the other and have one or two questions asked and then answered from Kabul. First, you ma'am.
MADIA BENJAMINYes, my name is Madia Benjamin. I'm with a group, Code Pink, that was against the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan from the beginning. Now, we have a financial crisis in the United States. The majority of people in this country want to see an end to this U.S. military intervention, feel we can't afford to be spending billions of dollars that should be going to rebuild this country.
MADIA BENJAMINAnd I feel that women are being used to justify an ongoing war that is really only benefiting the military contractors. What do you say to American women who want to see the 100,000 of our sons and daughters come back home, want to see that money invested in rebuilding America and would like to find nonmilitary ways to be in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan.
NNAMDIOn second thought, Akmal, I will allow this question to be answered immediately in Kabul because I'm sure that one of your panelists would like to respond to it.
DAWIDefinitely. I think Safia would like to answer this question. Are women's rights in Afghanistan used in a way to justify the continuation of war in Afghanistan and are there other ways that without military means women could be, you know, assisted here?
SIDIQIThank you very much. I think it's a little bit difficult to answer this question. We Afghan really believe that the military should go back to their own country and also the military problem should be solved. But for 10 years, the international collation in Afghanistan were not able, at least, to help, our army, our national police help the section, our education here in this country and also the most important, security in this country. Then how we can say, no, we don't need this many, no, we don't need that people. We need them, still we need their help, we need their support, we need, at least, to be with the Afghan people, especially with the Afghan woman.
DAWIThe critical question, I think, the food for mind, would be to ask this question, whether the U.S. military is actually promoting women's rights in Afghanistan or not? And I would like to raise this question with Dr. Samar. We have over 100,000 U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan and the perception is that if they leave, then Afghan woman will be enslaved again. So that basically means, you know, women's rights are protected by U.S. military boots on the ground; is that correct?
SAMARWell, I think the -- let me answer the question which was raised from Washington also. I think we have no choice. That was not the choice of the Afghan people and not the choice of the American people to come to Afghanistan and have military intervention.
SAMARBut I think that was the only solution for that, in that particular moment. But I have to say that Afghanistan problem has not or do not have one single solution, either military or economical support. I think it does require a long-term multi-dimension strategy in order to solve the problem in Afghanistan. So I don't think that our rights will depend only on the military presence in the country.
SAMAROf course, as I mentioned before, security's important and it is an important element for us as a woman. But I think it does require a proper long-term multi-dimension strategy in order to solve the problem in Afghanistan. With military, will not be the final solution or the only solution.
SAMARI have to say that we had 140,000 Russian soldiers in Afghanistan in '88 and '89 and under one single command, could not bring the people in Afghanistan under control. Because they didn't have the support of the people and we will face the same problem, we already face the same problem because the people do not support the Afghan government and also do not support the behavior of the international soldiers in Afghanistan. If the people support the presence of the soldiers then practically, naturally Taliban will be isolated and they will not have space of maneuver in this country.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi and you're listening to "Joined By War: Women's Rights in Today's Afghanistan."
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi and you're listening to "Joined By War: Women's Rights in Today's Afghanistan." This is a special presentation from WAMU 88.5, America Abroad and Killid Radio Afghanistan. We are talking with an audience in Kabul, sharing a conversation with an audience and panelists here in Washington D.C.
NNAMDIAnita McBride is one of our panelists here in Washington. She's a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, a public-private partnership between the U.S. and Afghan governments. Also with us as a panelist is Michelle Barsa, lead advocate on Afghan at the Institute for Inclusive Security.
NNAMDIOur Afghan host is Akmal Dawi. He's a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations in Afghanistan. His panelists in Kabul are Dr. Sima Samar, chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Special Reporter on human rights in Sudan. And Safia Sidiqi, a woman's rights activist and a former Afghan parliament member. We're taking questions from our audiences here in Washington and in Kabul. Yes, ma'am?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2First, I'd like to say (speaks foreign language) to our friends in Kabul and secondly, I just want to pick up on something that Dr. Samar eluded to. and that is that, the situation of women in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion was much, much better than what, I think, Americans understand. And I want to make sure that the American audience understands that when, in the 1970s, when feminism was just beginning to rise in the United States, Afghanistan had many, many protections for women and rights for women. For example, childcare in Afghanistan, at least in the cities, was very widespread. University entrance, we had quotas in the United States for women entering university systems.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2In Afghanistan, entrance to the university was based on numerical registration, where you didn't know the gender of the person taking the entrance exam. So I think it's very important that we understand that the Afghan woman are trying to go back to something that has really been taken away from them. It's not that we're trying to give them something that's new and something that we have in the West and they have no idea about. So that's very, very important.
DAWIYes, we have Dr. Samar with her brief comments on the question.
SAMARThank you very much. First of all, thanks for the comments that you made. I have to say that I, personally, had gone to coeducation school in Helmand, where we cannot speak about coeducation school today in Afghanistan, 40 years ago.
SAMARSecondly, I think I have to say that it's, I don't see a big change on the understanding of Afghan women and Afghan culture. These are the human rights values or equality for women and gender equality in a country is a human value, it's not a Western value. We count ourselves as a human, so please don't use those excuses that you respect the culture and the tradition in Afghanistan and not pushing for women's rights. It's a human rights value. We want it and we are human. Thank you.
DAWIThank you very much. Kojo, back to you in Washington.
NNAMDIAnd we're going to do rapid fire here. We're going to take three questions from our audience here in Washington and send them onto you. first, yes ma'am.
PROF. DIANE SINGERMANI'm Professor Diane Singermen from the government department at America University and my question is, as we can expect U.S. forces to withdraw, what is the preparation that the woman's movement, in its diversities, doing locally? How will the women's movement be stronger, be prepared for this sort of, the next stage? How will the women's movement be able to counter the more patriarchal forces sometimes that are armed in Afghanistan? And the second question, very quickly, we talk a lot about women, gender is not synonymous with women. What is the women's movement doing particularly in rural areas, about changing the attitudes and the norms of Afghan men?
NNAMDII hope you're taking notes, Akmal, because here comes another question.
LYRICHi. Thank you so much, Kojo. I'm Lyric, and I'm with an organization called Women for Women International that works with women at the grass roots level in Afghanistan. We've worked with over 30,000 women. And I'd like to turn the conversation to what space can be created for that profile of woman to participate in the ongoing peace talks that have been very opaque. There's not a lot of credibility. There's a lot of assertions. There's a lot of rumors. Where is that process and what are some concrete steps that can be taken to provide that space for women to have dialogue like this one where their voices are heard?
NNAMDIOkay. We have a third questioner right here. I'm coming to you as quickly as I can. Here you go.
MARGARET ROGERSMargaret Rogers, Aschiana Foundation. One of the Afghan panelists mentioned that there is not enough support from the Afghan government. Are you working to organize women and men to put pressure on the Afghan government for more support?
NNAMDISo we will hand all three of our questions over to Kabul.
DAWIYeah. I'll -- the first question -- I will direct the first question to Safia. Everybody is talking about the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan. Are Afghan women for the post-U.S. environment?
SIDIQII think it is very difficult to say yes or to say no. Unfortunately, I can say there is nothing improved for the life of the women who are in the rural outskirt of Afghanistan. And I think there is some problems still arise there, and also we cannot say we can step up without our relation -- without our friends -- international friends. I think we need each other. For the peace and security we need each other for the being supportive of each other. Because you know, the war in Afghanistan, this is not war for the Afghan people.
SIDIQIThis is international, and we need international to be present to think about us, to think about Afghan women in the future as well.
DAWIIndeed. So Afghan women expect a lot from American and international women to help them. And Dr. Samar raised the issue of the government not committed to women's rights. And Dr. Samar...
SAMARLet me talk along the other questions. First of all, on the how prepared we are, we have to prepare ourselves. And we will not let the whole Afghan society to go back in the Taliban time, or even in the Mujahedeen or before the Mujahedeen, during the Russian time. I hope that the Afghan people will take the responsibility and push forward. Number two, what we can do to change the mentality of the men in Afghanistan. I think through education we can change the mentality of the men and women in the country.
SAMARAnd if we give them education, and opportunity for education, their behavior has naturally changed. Three, the role of the women in the reconciliation and reintegration, I have to say, unfortunately, there's a lack of transparency on the mechanism that the government wants. And of course, lack of our presence, women's presence, not Sima Samar's presence, but women's presence in the high level so-called reconciliation program. That is -- it's very sad. I have to clear say that without women's participation in the high level discussion or negotiation table, the peace will be not be sustainable in Afghanistan.
SAMARWe have a case that a commander who killed a woman three months or four months ago in (word?) . She was killed -- she was accused of prostitution or adultery, and then the same commander and joined the government. He is walking around with his gun with gunmen, and the son of that woman is crying and walking around and saying that how he -- where he should go and get justice for his mother. And finish my talking by saying that we need education.
SAMARI have to say to the American friends how much money they really spend on higher education for the women in this country. Primary education is not going to lead us anywhere. Yes. We will get -- we will able to read and write, we might have some changes in our daily life, but it will not lead to a political leadership from only a primary education in the country. Thank you.
DAWIOkay. And there is a final question. A lady here, could you please introduce yourself and ask your questions.
MS. NINOVAMy name is Ninova (sp?) and I have a question for Ms. Anita. What do you think about past ten years and the achievements that you have had, and what do you think about the future of Afghanistan and the strategies that you are making? Is there any Afghan female or Afghan women involved in it? Are there Afghans involved in your strategy for Afghanistan?
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for all of those questions. Anita McBride, I'll ask you to try to keep your responses as brief as possible.
MCBRIDEFirst of all, I want to thank Dr. Samar for continuing to raise throughout this forum today about education and the importance of education. Because that was very critical to our policy post-2001 is rebuilding the education infrastructure in Afghanistan. I know it was eluded here today that of course the Afghan population was highly educated before all of these 30 years of war. The problem is, of course, an entire generation was denied an education.
MCBRIDEAnd I did visit Kabul University twice, and we were very proud to see the progress in women going to school there and living in the dormitory just for them to become teachers and go out to the provinces and create this cascading effect of education for young people, particularly in rural areas. And I hope that that answers your question very quickly. It may not, and I can give some to Michele here.
BARSAI can also -- I mean, just to comment on what the strategy is moving forward, right now the U.S. government is negotiating with the Karzai administration a new strategic partnership agreement. It will be a revision of the 2005 arrangement. Those negotiations are happening at a high level now, but the plan is to host national Jerga sometime in the coming months where Afghans will have the opportunity to participate in contributing to that agreement.
BARSAThey are also defining right now our transition strategy which will have some application, social, economic, political and security spheres and we're hoping we'll have explicit mention of protections for women and assurances of women's participation in the decision making processes. Those documents are not yet public, and the processes not uber transparent, so it's difficult to say where they're at and what the degree of Afghan input is.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi, and you're listening to "Joined by War: Women's Rights in Today's Afghanistan." We've now come to our final segment where we will be taking questions from one audience to members of the other audience, and opposed to questions for the panelists. And Akmal, we had a question submitted from a member of the audience here that is for any female member of your audience there. "What daily challenges do you face as a woman that men do not face on a daily basis?" That's a question for any woman in your audience. You or anyone else can -- either you can select someone or someone can self-select to respond to that question.
DAWICan somebody answer that question? Here we go, can answer. Yeah.
MS. HOMIDADMy name is Homidad Saleb (sp?) . The difference between male and female in Afghanistan in their daily life is that men gaze at you. You are a female. It's a hidden truth in my society, but I would have to say today -- and I apologize for that. Whether you are beautiful or ugly, young or old, men gaze at you. They will look at you when you leave your home until you get to your office, they will be looking at you.
MS. HOMIDADIt's in every society and every caste in Afghanistan. It's a common tradition in Afghanistan. Let alone the things like working at home, doing the chores, or cooking, it's very, very rare for a man to cook at home. Woman does most of the job inside and outside, but men only works outside of the home.
DAWIKojo, I hope that answered the question. And here we also have a question to the audience in Washington. Farhal Lakosatani (sp?) is a university student.
MS. FARHALI am. First of all, I want to say hello to all members here in the U.S. After that I have a question. It's a big question for me that when the U.S. is supporting the women's movement in different sides, for example in politics side. So when I studied about women in U.S., I found something that the women -- the number of women in U.S. Parliament is less than Afghan women here in Parliament. So what's the reason that the member of U.S. women in Parliament is less than Afghanistan?
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. We will have a response to the question that was raised on why is it there is a lower percentage of women in the Congress of the United States than there is in the Parliament in Afghanistan?
MCBRIDEI think Michele and I could speak to that. We were actually laughing a little bit saying it's 28 percent women that are in Parliament in Afghanistan and we think it's lower than 17 here in our country. Part of that is -- I mean, there are requirements in your Constitution in Afghanistan that women be in the Parliament. We don't have that kind of requirement. And it's an interesting question because honestly there are a number of women in our U.S. Congress that are looking for ways, and have asked how can they help women in Afghanistan and women Parliamentarians.
MCBRIDEAnd maybe it's really the other way around, how can you help them? But the difference is it's in your law, it's not in ours.
NNAMDIAnd we have a question here for a member of the audience in Afghanistan. We have two questions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3Hello. I'm with the Initiative to Educate Women, and we provide scholarships for Afghan women here in the United States, and they return to Afghanistan. The question is what is the opportunity for jobs for these young women now, and how do you feel about their security if it's known that they were educated in the U.S.? Thank you.
NNAMDIOkay. A second question. Hopefully, there's a member of your audience who can answer that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #4Hello to everyone. My name is Dr. (word?). Very good morning to everyone. I'm a mental health professional, and a professor of psychology, and I'm really deeply saddened by the fact that nobody talked about mental health of Afghan women in Afghanistan. What we see today is really an emergency in my view. In fact, the gentleman who brought up the issue that, you know, the violence against women is mostly related to cultural, I absolutely don't agree with that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #4This is a phenomenon caused by over 30 years at war. And we need to really make -- take action in terms of how to promote peace building and peace education. Has there been anything done in terms of peace education on the part of Afghan women as well as males to include them. Thank you.
NNAMDIAkmal, whoever can answer that question in Kabul, I guess should -- those questions, I guess should be answering them. Go ahead, please.
DAWIOh, yes. Safia Sadiqi has raised her hand and I think she's gonna answer that question.
SIDIQIYes. Thank you very much for the question with the girls with higher education in the United States and also in the other parts of the world. But you know, so far, we had all this possibility for the Afghan male member at the universities. But for last ten years one thing, which I can really want to be honest on it, like some women they have got very good and higher education in different countries in the world.
SIDIQIAnd fortunately, I can tell you that the Afghan government and also the civil society is really accepting and also they are thirsty for the girls whom they are coming from outside, whom they are coming with well education, whom they are coming with the well literacy and the computer, and also in the English language. And they are the people who have their special space in the Afghan government and also in the -- within the civil society. This is one of the things which I would like to assure you.
DAWIThank you. And Dr. Samar, what about the peace education in Afghanistan, mental health. That's a critical issue. What is being done on those?
SAMARI think -- I'm sorry that we did not mention the mental health because it's -- there is a lot of problem that we did not mention, including mental health as a problem in Afghanistan. They start to do something, but it's enough at all. There is a problem, not only among the women, but among the men and women in this country there's a lot of mental problems due to the war, due to the violence that face the everyday.
SAMAROn the peace education, I think there are some peace education going on through Human Rights Commission, through some other (word?) and networks, but I have to say that peace has to built by the public. And I think the people do know what they really want and need. And it's not that people doesn't know. The problem is that they are not informing the people. We need to engage the people. We need to discuss with the people. We need to negotiate with the people. We need to consult with the people.
SAMARThe consultation that we did with the public in Afghanistan for transition of justice, for several other issues, they really want justice. They really want accountability. They really insist on those issues. They really want the removal of those warlords from the position of power. And nobody's taking care of those. Let me finish with that one sentence. The U.S. Ambassador signed the check for $50 million for reintegration and reconciliation. But how much they are paying for women's empowerment in the country? Not much.
DAWIThat's a good question. That's a good question. Kojo, back to you.
NNAMDIAkmal Dawi, I'm afraid that is going to have to be the last sentence, because we are out of time. I would like to thank our panelists here in Washington and our translators. Michele Barsa is the lead advocate on Afghanistan at the Institute for Inclusive Security. Anita McBride is a member of the U.S. Afghan Women's Council, a public private partnership between the U.S. and Afghan governments. Our translators, Habiba Ashna and Mousafaka Khamal (sp?) Can we get a round of applause for all of our panelists here in Washington? Thank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd of course, I'd like to thank my co-host from Radio Killid in Afghanistan, Akmal Dawi, and his guests, Dr. Sima Samar, chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations special reporter on Human Rights in Sudan. Safia Sadiqi is a women's rights activist and former Afghan Parliament member. And of course, the audience that so generously shared their time with us in Kabul, can we hear it for all of them?
NNAMDIOnce again, my thanks to Akmal Dawi and the production team in Kabul. This program was recorded live at the Katzen Art Center at American University. Thanks, of course, to American University for providing the facility. The production team here in Washington included Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Diane Vogel, and Jonathan Charry at WAMU, and Matt Ozug and Aaron Lobel at America Abroad. For more information on this program, visit AmericaAbroad.org or wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. This has been "Joined by War: Women's Rights in Today's Afghanistan." Thank you all so much for participating.
Most Recent Shows
Mohsin Hamid explores the personal and political in this collection of essays about a dual identity as a Pakistani who's spent his life between the West and the East.
Kojo chats with filmmaker Kirby Dick, whose latest work explores how American colleges and universities are struggling to combat sexual assaults on their campuses.
Funding authority for the Department of Homeland Security is set to run out at midnight on Friday. As the Senate moves closer to approving a "clean" funding bill and the House confronts Friday's deadline, we consider the implications of a DHS shutdown and the possible political fallout for both parties.