Afghan women raise their voices

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In February, an international, women-led non-profit called Afghans for Peace (AFP) with a mandate rooted in national sovereignty was launched. Its objective is to encourage ethnic diversity and its intention is to see peace and stability in the region.

Spogmai Akseer, board member and PhD candidate, recently returned from Afghanistan and she spoke at the Steelworkers Hall in Toronto, presenting a slide show with telling images of multiple failed development projects. These included roads abandoned in mid-construction, medical clinics with no trained staff or medical supplies, and schools located in the middle of nowhere.

Akseer wants to expose the reality of the development industry and how the collusion between aid and security translates into profiteering and occupation, with locals being more afraid of NATO troops than they are of the Taliban.

Akseer said "development" specialists go to Afghanistan with their own agendas and with little regard for the actual needs of Afghans.

One of the reasons the majority of development projects fail, according to Akseer, is that there is no accountability. Once the funding has been released, projects are abandoned. While the NGOs are profiting from lucrative home country contracts, Afghan people are seeing no benefit.

It becomes obvious who is truly benefiting from this private sector NGO initiative when the biggest "development" success in Kabul is the multimillion-dollar Serena Hotel, located in the centre of Kabul, which is in "the green zone" where most foreign aid workers live.

Liberation

In Canada, the perception of "liberation" for women is much different than what the majority of Afghan women need, says Akseer. It is true that Afghan women need access to education, healthcare and security but none of these are a priority for the Canadian military.

It is hard for the average Canadian to understand the terror that is living under military occupation. Living in a war zone is not conducive to human development, the terror of night raids and the suspicion that is bred by soldiers who offer monetary rewards for information about Taliban activities, creates a culture of contempt and lateral violence.

NATO forces are constantly exploiting local tribal feuding, by extracting information from one group who has an ancient discord with another and then laying siege without verification.

It is the very presence of NATO soldiers that increases the violence that women experience. The idea that many Canadians hold about our "benevolent" role as development practitioners and police trainers is false.

Akseer said the notion that women can be liberated from the oppression of their men by foreign troops or NGO aid groups is completely wrong. The kind of thinking that employs violence in order to "liberate and enlighten" is exemplified in Kabul where NATO backs a corrupt president Hamid Karzai and his cabinet of well known and hated warlords.

The double-speak continues in the picture of human rights painted in the Globe and Mail about Canadian aid workers, titled "A time to lead, helping Afghanistan's women." Despite giving a telling account of the lack of improvement in the conditions of the lives of women in Afghanistan, in the article Susan Sachs suggests that "the Harper government needs a more systematic approach for its post-conflict role, one that ties aid to document improvements in women's access to legal reform, education and health care services."

To Akseer and AFP, the reality is quite different. After 10 long years of NATO-led occupation there are no improvements in the lives of the majority of Afghan women. Confirmation of this came from The Red Cross Report of Dec. 15, 2010 which states that "humanitarian conditions are worse than they were 10 years ago in Afghanistan."

AFP is actively creating a counter narrative to the myth that Afghan women are being liberated by the presence of NATO soldiers. They are doing this by promoting the authentic voice of Afghans from Afghanistan. AFP and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers living in Bamiyan hosted an international day of live-stream listening, wherein people from all around the world called in to inquire about the truth facing people in Afghanistan.

Attacks

In the weeks following the launch of AFP, the leading women members have come under attack for their stance against NATO's role in the country from the pro-occupation right in Canada. The inaccurately named Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity committee are engaging in a smear campaign to discredit these courageous outspoken Afghan women by promoting the views of one Afghan male blogger who uses racist, homophobic, and misogynist statements against AFP.

This is emblematic of how the state and its allies respond to those who struggle for self determination, seeking out the lone voices of pro-warlord, ethno-centric individuals as pawns in their self interested campaigns.

AFP acknowledges that NATO has a vested interest in prolonging the occupation and yet AFP maintain their position against all foreign military presence in Afghanistan.

For more information and to support Afghans for Peace, visit Afghans For Peace  and join us for the international day of action against the war in Afghanistan on April 9. 

Fava Zaharuk is a student and organizer with the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War as well as a regular contributor to Socialist Worker. This story was first published in Socialist Worker.

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