Interview: Afghan women's rights struggle is for next generation
Ten years after international forces overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan, women's rights have not significantly improved, activist Suraya Pakzad told dpa, as the international community met in the former German capital Bonn to discuss Afghanistan's future.
Pakzad grew up under the Soviet-backed government in Kabul, and experienced the Islamist repression under Taliban rule from 1996-2001, which was particularly brutal to women.
At the age of 12 she saw her headmistress killed in the schoolyard for refusing to wear a headscarf. Another of her teachers was shot on the street in Herat for teaching young girls.
Nevertheless Pakzad persevered with her education, and now runs shelters, and promotes education and legal and social aid for women in Afghanistan.
But she said it was a long, hard struggle, which would "pave the road for the next generation."
"After 10 years we haven't seen any changes," Pakzad said. "It takes generations to change men's attitudes to women's rights."
It was not just Islamist groups such as the Taliban who threatened womens' rights, according to Pakzad. As long as warlords remain in power in much of the country, she said, women would face the same challenges.
Pakzad described her own experience, opening a women's shelter in Badghis in 2009. A day after opening the shelter, she received an Islamic verdict calling for her to be killed and her office burned, as she was perceived to be encouraging women to get divorced.
Pakzad - who has been named one of the world's 100 most influential women by US magazine Time - said that nevertheless there have been significant improvements in the last 10 years.
There are now 69 women in parliament as a result of a quota system introduced in 2005, and millions of girls are receiving education. Women were participating in nation-building and were active in all walks of life, Pakzad said.
Nevertheless, she said there were still huge challenges, ranging from the exclusion of women from senior positions - exemplified by the fact that just one female Afghan delegate attended the London conference in 2010 -to womens' lack of access to the justice system.
"The definition of a good woman is to tolerate violations and stick by the family, and not go to court," Pakzad said, adding that judges often did not believe the woman's version of events.
A telling case is that of Gul Naz, 19, who was still underage when she was raped by a relative and fell pregnant. She was jailed for adultery for two and a half years, before President Hamid Karzai pardoned her last Thursday.
Pakzad said she had travelled to Bonn with the hope that the international community would take women's rights seriously, and show long-term commitment - working with Afghans to tailor projects to their needs rather than imposing generic "cut and paste" aid programmes.
She called for countries to formalize in writing their commitments beyond 2014, rather than making promises that may not be kept.
"Otherwise we risk losing the achievements of the last 10 years," she warned.
The rights campaigner said she understood those people who had lost family to the conflict in Afghanistan and wanted the international engagement to end as soon as possible.
At the same time she said the country could not afford another civil war like the one in the 1990s that brought the Taliban regime to power.
"Please think about the achievements," the activist urged. "Do not lose them after 2014."
Her pleas echo the findings of international organizations such as aid agency Oxfam, which has warned that women's rights might be sidelined in the broader search for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
"The improvements for Afghan women's rights gained over the last decade are at risk of slipping away and could be lost in a quick fix bargain for peace," Oxfam said in a recent report. Author: Helen Maguire