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Fakhera Mousavi: 'The Afghan Woman Rests in the Coma of her Predecessors'

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Fakhera Mousavi is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Lyon in France. She offers her views as a woman who has always lived in exile and has had a different experience of life from that of other women of her homeland.

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Photo : Armanshahr/Open Asia / Matthieu Hackière

Can you give us an example of how your rights have been violated?

As migrants not linked to any particular powerful group, our right to education has been threatened and sometimes denied. The hijab is another human rights issue which I have confronted in my life. Whenever my relatives and acquaintances wanted to put pressure on me, they would tell me to observe the hijab, even within the privacy of our home or my own room. Even my mother's suggestion as to how I should rearrange my headscarf annoyed me. The neighbours who came to our house for prayers also tried to suppress me with their remarks about the hijab.

What important changes have you observed in Afghanistan?

This is a time of striving for change and reconstruction. From my perspective, taking account of social psychology, I also see the traditional mentalities and moralities wavering in the face of change.

What gives you hope for the future?

I have noticed that peoples' lifestyles have changed considerably. People are now accustomed to using the Internet and other communication technologies. They have greater access to the news and the media in general. This phenomenon has found its way even into the rural homes.

What do you fear most today?

I do not have any fears. The only worry that I have concerns the political elite and the people's fate, and I hope that this will gradually disappear as a fear. The people of Afghanistan have lived many different political experiences. I hope a new political elite, who will put rationality at the top of the political agenda, will soon take the stage.

What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?

The biggest challenge is the lack of education. Political, social and cultural behaviors, all of these need to be re-learnt in Afghanistan. We all suffer and live with illusions that lead us to distrust the people around us. The perpetual lack of security contributes heavily to this distrust, which is present even at the highest-levels of political decision-making. Any time that a new political candidate arrives on the scene, they make sure to take their share, because nobody knows whether they will still be able to benefit from this share tomorrow. Our current conditions are clearly unreliable.

Is it possible that girls could once again be banned from schools and women excluded from social participation, as was the case under the Taliban?

Anything is possible. But the Afghan society has undergone many changes. Nonetheless, the hesitation and reluctance that lingers amongst the men in Afghanistan is a major factor holding women back. I can see that the women of Afghanistan, in particular the educated women, are more determined than they were in the past. In the past, the politics of silence dominated; now there is a women's movement.

Which factors hinder women from participating in social, economic, political and cultural spheres?

The biggest hindrance is the Afghan woman herself. She rests in the coma of her predecessors, her mother's generation. Unfortunately, the previous generation of women in Afghanistan created serious obstacles for the women of today. During their generation, the idea of male domination became entrenched and internalised as a belief in the society and culture. The only way to combat this belief is through education. But then, we need to ask who provides the education in Afghanistan? Even education is part of the patriarchal system in Afghanistan. The mother who educates her children is not herself empowered; she does not occupy a prominent role in the society or a central role at home. It is the father who makes the decisions in Afghanistan. Patriarchy also prevails in the legal and political system. Look at the female politicians: they still regard political questions through the lens of patriarchy and take a pro-male attitude in their decision-making.

What do women in Afghanistan want?

Educated women demand justice and equality at all levels of society. They demand a justice-based approach to the basic laws in force in Afghanistan. Above all, the new generation of women demand gender justice and the eradication of discrimination at all levels of society.

Which sources and institutions can women rely on to promote their rights and demands?

I do not know of any sources women can rely on. All of the institutions take a patriarchal approach. The only time they act in favor of women is when they are pressured to do so by the international community: I fear that if the international support were withdrawn tomorrow, the small gains being made on women's rights would also come to an end. Some time ago, during the session on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women in Geneva, I saw some women who were begging the foreign powers to support them, saying that without this support they would not be able to continue. I don't think there is even specific funding for women's rights in Afghanistan. Or, if there is, the only organisations who benefit from it are those who act exactly in accordance with the power holders' wishes.

"Unveiling Afghanistan, the Unheard Voices of Progress" is a campaign by Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA and FIDH, which explores views held by Afghan civil society actors. Influential social, political and cultural actors hope to spark conversation and debate about building a society that is inclusive of women's and human rights in Afghanistan.

You can read original interviews in Dari on Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA