WASHINGTON – Nilofar Sakhi,an Afghan women's rights activist,said things have improved for urban women in her country but that many rural women remain trapped by traditional restrictions.
Sakhi spoke Thursday to an audience of activists at the National Endowment for Democracy on the occasion of International Women's Day.
She said that most of the ignored women's problems are in the remote areas of the country where the local Jirga,the traditional decision making council of Afghan communities,controls public and family issues. In the Jirgas,women are not allowed to talk or participate even in situations that directly affect them.
Sakhi said she considers the 2001 invasion and its aftermath as the “era of changes.” Since then,Sakhi said that in the urban areas and cities,in particular,there have been significant changes in women's lives and protection of their legal rights. Once fighting stopped,things began to get better.
“My research shows that security comes first because it stops the women's mobility first,” she said.
Still,she said political and social instabilities block progress for some.
She said that the Taliban rule period,when Afghan women were fully banned from social,economical and political participation,is known as “gender apartheid” among most of the world's organizations and reports.
As part of her recommendations to help women in Afghanistan,she said government should establish family courts in the provinces. She also said that there should be social and legal awareness of gender programs both for men and women.
Sakhi said there is need of small-business opportunities for all women with a special focus on women in the remote areas.
She said that,in the long term,education will help women stand on their own,which will help the women's movement in her country.
Sakhi said that the first women's rights organization since Afghanistan gained independence from the British in 1919 was initiated by Queen Suraya,the wife of king Amanullah Khan.
The queen initiated the Women's Rights Support Association in the 1920s,mainly focusing on social and economic issues to provide women with education,job opportunities and protection of their legal rights,Sakhi said.
Sakhi,a Fulbright scholar,is the founding director of the Women's Activities and Social Services Association,which promotes and protects women's rights. The non-governmental organization is located in Herat,one of the western provinces with a record of women's rights violation and self-immolation,often the result of forced marriages and domestic violence.
After completing two years of study,pursuing a graduate degree in conflict transformation at the Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg,Va.,she said that on her return home she will work to resolve women's issues in the male-dominated remote areas of the country.
Concerning the obstacles in the way of the women's movement and activists' resilience Sakhi said,”What sustains our work is to see the changes of our work.”