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Mir Mohammad Yaqub Mashuf: 'The Government's Actions for Women Are Empty and Symbolic'

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Mohammad Yaqub Mashuf is an economist and writer. He also collaborates with mainstream Afghan media and produces articles on economic and political affairs.

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Photo : Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA / Matthieu Hackière

The daily newspaper 8 Sobh recently published a list of 5,000 victims of the 1978 communist government. Were any of your relatives on the list?

I didn't intend to talk about my private issues today, but your question leads me directly to the worst period of my life, during the Communist reign in Afghanistan. My father, Mir Mohammad Amin Mashuf, his name is on that list -- he was one of the victims of that era. The worst memory of my life took shape during those days and months. One night in 1978, a group of military men attacked the factory where we were working and took my father away with them. I never saw him again. I waited at the gates of the Pul-e Charkhi prison from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day for a month, hoping for news of my father. I wanted to know why he had been detained and where he was. Nobody would give me any answers; nobody would even talk to us. Nobody cared why we were there and what we wanted. Finally when the list of the Communist era victims was published in 8 Sobh in 2013, I saw my father's name.

What gives you hope for the future?

I'm really happy that freedom of expression has developed in our country. But what does freedom of expression mean? The general idea is that it means everybody can say what they wish. However, freedom of expression also means that everybody must be accountable. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go to reach that kind of freedom. Nonetheless, I hope such important institutions as the media, the civil institutions and the dissidents will endeavor to promote and institutionalize the principles and foundations of democracy.

What do you fear most today?

My greatest fear is the fear for my own life. In this country, you cannot live two minutes without fearing suicide bombings and explosions.

What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?

The biggest challenge is the lack of respect for the law. In a system based on rule of law, political and social consciousness can be achieved; and the civil society can take shape.

Will present-day Afghanistan allow schools to once again be closed to girls and women excluded from social participation?

The Afghan people react negatively to such a circumstance. They will not allow the Taliban to close the schools and the universities once again and deprive women the right of participating in social life. The issue concerns the women first of all. After more than 10 years of progress, they must use all of the rights and conditions they have achieved to combat every threat posed to them. The international institutions and civil society have to protect women, and the systems that have been established for their protection; they cannot allow women's rights to be crushed in political dealings. I don't think that the international community would easily let its massive investment in this country over the past decade slip away and allow Afghanistan to return to the dark era of the Taliban.

Can you tell us about any specific occasions where the human rights of a female family member or friend were violated?

During the Taliban's rule, some of my close female relatives studied in secret in a home school. One day, the Taliban attacked their school. They tore up their books and smashed their equipment to prevent them from studying.

Today, women face obstacles to employment in some government departments. Either they are not recruited on false pretexts, or they are dismissed from their jobs by influential men. In some cases, women are used by men to blackmail each other.

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

The biggest deterrent factor is the power of tradition in society. Unfortunately, our women have been caught in the trap set up by the ideas of the mullahs and the ethnic leaders.

What do women want?

Their greatest demands are for justice and gender equality.

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

On the one hand, there is an empty discussion that has been initiated by the government about women's rights. On the other hand, there is the activism by women. In my opinion, nothing will change unless women take action in solidarity with each other. Women must depend on their own power: Civil activism by women to achieve their own citizenship rights is the single strongest dependable source to advance women's rights. I'm pessimistic about support from the government; in my opinion, the government's actions for women are empty and symbolic.

"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