Azeeta Rafhat, Women’s Rights Activist: “As a mother, I couldn’t expose my daughters to any more danger”
Azita Rafhat is a human and women’s rights activist from the Badghis province, in Afghanistan. In 2002, she was a people’s representative in the emergency “loya jirga” (Pashto for grand assembly) to elect a transitional administration after the fall of the Taliban government. Ms. Rafhat later served as a Member of Parliament for Badghis province. Recently, she fled the country and resettled in Sweden to protect her children from increasing menace.
In 2002, President Karzai signed the declaration for the “essential rights of Afghan women”. In 2016, has the situation improved for women?
I would say that the situation of women has somewhat improved in large cities where women have more access to resources. However, despite the fact that our constitution provides that men and women have equal rights and the engagement of both governmental and non-governmental organizations in raising the flag of women’s rights, those living in rural parts of the country still face increasing problems.
After many years of pressure from women’s rights activists and the international community, very few improvements have materialized and Afghanistan continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous countries for women.
“Honor killings and domestic abuse are widespread. They have become normal practices at all levels of the Afghan society: human rights and women’s rights exist only on paper, not in everyday life.”
What are the principal challenges that women have to face?
I would say that one of the main problems is the country’s unstable security situation which weakens the rule of law. Then, resulting from the shortcomings in the application of the rule of law, corruption can only be on the rise, causing more instability and poverty. All of this brings a lot of pressure for women, especially those living in remote, rural areas. Rural women have been denied access to fundamental rights and services. Believe me, these women are not considered as human beings, their rights are equal to that of animals.
What factors contribute to hinder women’s participation in the country’s economic and social life?
Firstly, I would say that women’s contribution is hindered by the prevalence of violence in cultural, economic and political fields. Secondly, because education is not an option for many women and girls, women’s literacy rate is much lower for women, which makes it much more difficult for them to become socially and economically active.
“Lastly, the country suffers from a lack of adaptation to modern times and a predominance of outdated views held by a male dominant society”
How are women engaged in politics perceived by the population?
In 2005, after the parliament for the first time started their work after decades, the situation at the beginning was somewhat stable in terms of security and many women had a chance to represent their people. Then after the second term of the parliament began, there was evidence of electoral fraud and many representatives didn’t get the chance to enter the parliament. I regret to say that at the present time only a few female politicians are trying to raise their voices. The rest of them are mostly shadows who are only willing to follow their male colleagues from the same province. With all due respect, I should say that they are symbolic politicians.
Life is not easy for those among them who are really engaged, especially for independent politicians, due to a lack of connections or relations with the country’s warlords or leaders. It is an everyday struggle and some are even risking their lives.
Could you tell about your experience as a member of the Parliament?
I was 27 years when I entered the parliament , I was the second youngest member of the parliament at that time, as a representative of the people of the Badghis province, located north west of the country. The first six months were a real struggle, but I was willing to share the vision I had for education and the development of women. I also had to face a lot of pressure from my male colleagues who wanted me to be part of their teams but not as a first runner. Eventually, I could assert myself as a capable member of the parliament, earning support and respect from the people I represented. Despite the struggle and difficulties, it was a great experience for me. Even after I lost my seat at the parliament, I was still able to use this experience in a positive way for the sake of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
What do you think should be done to improve the country’s situation?
Afghanistan suffers from a lack of commitment, especially from the country’s officials and government people, including the president and the CEO. The afghan people desperately needs a genuine commitment in terms of action, in terms of rule of law, in terms of unity. If leaders were to work in these areas with real commitment and with a real belief in unity, without favoring one part of the country or one tribe over the other, then most of the problems would be solved and we would be able to do something better for the country.
“Right now unfortunately the situation is quite difficult, the scale of corruption has reached intolerable proportions, the security situation is unstable and the war is raging in most of the country’s regions. People are trying their best to change the situation but it will not happen until people’s opinion is respected by officials and until they are truly committed in changing the country”.
Why did you leave?
I never thought that I would leave my country because I grew up there. Even when my country was literally besieged by civil wars, even when ten thousand rockets hit Kabul, the place where my family and I were living, I couldn’t imagine leaving my country. I invested a lot of my time serving my people as a politician.
The Talibans tried to intimidate me countless times, they threatened to blast my home with hand grenades and they even attacked me. Despite all this, I had always stood for human and women’s rights and for my people. But at the end of my day’s work, I also had a family, I also was a mother. At that point I had to make a decision.
As a politician, I could have faced the danger, but as a mum I couldn’t expose my girls to any more threat, especially after insurgents, passing themselves off as police officers, came to my door without finding me. So I did what I had to do to preserve my family, to preserve my daughters and decided to leave the country. But it doesn’t mean that I will stop my activities and my struggle for my country. My work continues and my wish is that I will be able to serve my country and my people in some other way.