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Kazemiya Mohaqeq: 'We Cannot Even Begin to List Our Demands If We Do Not Shake Off the Straitjacket of Illiteracy'

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Kazemiya Mohaqeq is a professor at Kateb University. She holds a master's degree in international relations and is studying for her PhD in the same field. She has written textbooks on women's issues, political science, and international relations for the Ministry of Education.

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Photo : Armanshahr/Open Asia / Matthieu Hackière

Can you share with us some memories of times when your rights have been violated?

A couple of years after I returned to Afghanistan, I was going to Panjshir province with my family. I was one of the few women who drove a car at the time. The policeman who guarded the checkpoint to enter the province would not let me drive into Panjshir. "Women do not drive in our homeland," they told me.

On a professional level, we female professors are never seen as equal to the male professors. In this patriarchal environment, a female professor needs to lift herself up from sub-zero to zero level. There was a time when the university management allocated land for housing construction to the professors, but they didn't give any land to the women. When we asked why, they responded: "You are women. What do you want land for?"

What are the most important achievements since the time of the Taliban in Afghanistan?

One of the most important achievements is the emergence of the newly born and still fragile democracy in Afghanistan. When we ask students today how a government is created, they all believe that it is the people who build the government. This is the progress of democracy in Afghanistan.

Another important development concerns the role and status of women. Furthermore, there have been positive legal developments, for example, the Law for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Family Law.

What gives you hope for the future?

The growing quest for knowledge in Afghanistan.

What do you fear most today?

I fear a return to the 1990s. I also fear the significant political instability that is spreading into the social and cultural spheres.

What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?

Unfortunately, we have not previously experienced power transitions and power-sharing in our political system. Since the fall of the Taliban, we have had two terms of Mr Karzai's presidency, and now it is time for him to hand power to somebody else.

With respect to cultural and social challenges, unfortunately our culture is based on patriarchal beliefs. Creativity and merits hardly have a role to play in this society. Everything is interpreted from a male point of view.

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?

Our society is still splintered; it has not adequately consolidated to combat the problems it faces. Fear has been instilled in our society for reasons related to pressures and the prevalence of fear propagated in the last four decades. It is difficult for the people to initiate change when the political system is organized in a way that may take us back to the 1990s.

What are the major factors deterring women's participation in social, economic, political and cultural spheres?

Reprehensible traditions and widespread illiteracy amongst men and women are the most important factors. Another factor is the lack of initiative by women, which originates in their lack of economic independence, the absence of support from the community and the lack of knowledge and awareness among women. Finally, violence against women plays a strongly limiting role.

What changes are necessary to advance women's rights in Afghanistan?

Most importantly, we need education, both on general and specialized levels. We cannot even begin to list our demands if we do not shake off the straitjacket of illiteracy. Furthermore, women need to play a more significant role on the decision-making level. It is easy to see that parliament legislates in favor of men. A glance at the list of administrative reforms in the past three years reveals that only a handful of women have been appointed to decision-making positions. Plenty of women apply for such positions, but there is an obstacle blocking their progress. Having good laws for women and implementing them in favour of women are also important steps. Another point to remark is the presence of misogynists in the courts: they should not be allowed to be there.

Which sources and centers of power can women rely on to promote their rights and demands?

We have to establish these centers: they do not exist yet. For instance, we have demanded certain amendments to the Personal Status Law for the Shiites. However, in the absence of dependable centers, we have managed to resolve the problem to some extent with the help of the international community.

The women's movement needs to evolve beyond its current membership of elite women. It must extend to all pockets of society; we need to establish some kind of unity among women. It is not enough for us to depend on the centers of power that are established by the international community. They will look out for the women of Afghanistan only so long as it is in their interests to do so. But, when the interests of foreigners are seen to be threatened, they will desert us.

We should also encourage women to educate themselves about religious issues so that they can effectively defend the rights of women in the religious domain.

What have you done in your personal and professional life to fight against discrimination?

At university, I try to share my experience with the students and promote a transgender approach. I tell the girls to demand the rights they are entitled to rather than expecting pity. I teach the boys that everybody is equal. In my private life, I work and think independently and do not allow anybody to place restrictions on me because I am a woman.

"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