The news from Afghanistan distresses me lately. I found out a month ago that an attacker in Farah, a province south of Herat, killed five students who were members of a class similar to the one I taught in Herat. That news was shocking, as Julie, my supervisor in Herat, had been in Farah securing a location for that very class only a month prior to my arrival.
Our Herat team planned for that class, putting it on the calendar, scheduling the teachers for the various subjects, and figuring out a place for our teachers to stay. Neither Julie nor I would have been allowed to teach any of those classes, as women are not acceptable as teachers in that part of the country. The southern provinces, such as Kandahar, Farah and Nangarhar, are more conservative, and women traveling to those places would be viewed badly.
Julie had been moved to Kabul right before I left Afghanistan to come home, so she was no longer involved with the class; however, hearing the news of the attack made me remember the police officers I had taught, and how quickly they had endeared themselves to me. Toward the end of that training period, an attack occurred in Herat City, and some police officers had been killed. I was on pins and needles until I found out that “my” officers were safe, so I could imagine how the current Herat team leader felt when five of “his” students had been killed in Farah.
This past week, however, I heard that not only were those five students killed, but a member of the team while I was there was in danger immediately after that attack, had to go into hiding, and had to be surreptitiously evacuated to Herat. I have been worried about the safety of my team members, and this news confirmed my worry.
Additionally, someone with whom I worked in Kabul sent me a link to a report by Reuters telling of the repeal of a law that was designed to give women more access to the justice and political systems. According to the law, women must hold at least 25 percent of the seats in Parliament. Similar to the British system, the Afghan Parliament consists of two houses — the upper (similar to our Senate) and the lower (similar to our House of Representatives). The Reuters article, published on line on June 17 (uk.reuters.com/article/2013/06/17/
uk-afghanistan-women-idUKBRE95G05R20130617), reported that the repeal had taken place in mid-May, but had been only recently discovered. Although the repeal has not yet been ratified by the upper house of Parliament or President Karzai, “[t]he action has sparked fears among women’s rights activists that President Hamid Karzai’s government is increasingly willing to trade away their hard fought gains to placate the Taliban as part of attempts to coax them to the peace table” (“Afghan Women Lose Political Power as Fears Grow for the Future”).
I assume the American media reports last week that the Taliban is coming closer to participating in peace talks could be related to the repeal of that law. While I am in favor of peace talks, I cringe to think that they will come at the expense of women, who already suffer greatly in that country, and who, though they have been demanding and getting some of their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights, still are treated as the lowest of the low.
In Kabul, I worked on a team specifically designed to empower and encourage women to take their rightful places within the legal and justice systems. One of that team’s members, a 27-year-old woman, studied at Dartmouth for a year; she is a lawyer and a natural leader. Thinking of her being forced to stifle her natural gifts because of her gender saddens me, especially after I worked with her for four months and observed her abilities.
I suppose that I will have to disengage myself from the concern I experience regarding the people I worked with, as well as regarding the country I visited. They will be in charge of their own destiny very soon, and though I have tried, I am now frustrated because there will be nothing I can do to help.