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Sayed Ishaq Gailani: 'Our Only Demand Is Attention to Education'

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Sayed Ishaq Gailani is the leader of the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan and current member of the Wolesi Jirga "House of Representatives" National Assembly of Afghanistan. He spent many years living in exile during the Soviet invasion and the Taliban civil wars. He obtained his Master's degree in Law and Political Science from Tehran University. During his political career, he has also cooperated closely with Amnesty International and has worked with the different U.N. representatives for Afghanistan.

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Photo : Armanshahr/Open Asia / Matthieu Hackière

Have your rights ever been violated?

The first time my human rights were violated was when I was forced to leave my homeland, together with my family, and begin a life in exile. It was when the communists took over: My family was forced to leave because of my own political and religious activities, as well as those of some other members of my family.

What are some important achievements in Afghanistan today?

One important achievement is the growth and development of the media and civil society. Another is the reconstruction and renovation of the education system. Many schools have been built and the universities reconstructed since the time of the Taliban. Significant numbers of university students have received scholarships to travel abroad. These are all significant achievements for the country.

What do you consider an innovation or a positive initiative, something that gives you hope for the future?

Unfortunately, I cannot think of anything that I would consider 'an innovation or positive initiative'.

What is your worst fear today?

I worry about the outcome of the 2014 elections. I fear that we might witness a completely flawed election, wracked with rigging and fraud. I worry that the election results might led to somebody taking power who makes our situation even worse than it is today. I am worried about a dark future for Afghanistan.

What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?

I will only mention the major challenges: widespread corruption in the government, a lack of willpower amongst the people calling for change, illiteracy, poverty, and unemployment.

Would today's Afghanistan allow schools to once again be closed to girls and women to be excluded from social participation?

The mere idea of this happening is a nightmare. The nation of Afghanistan will never again allow the schools to be closed to girls. The nation does not want to return to the dark days of its history. The nation will defend its rights. I believe strongly in the youth and progressive forces of the country.

Have the rights of any of your female family members ever been violated?

In our family, men and women are equally respected. Therefore, there has not been any violation of the human rights of women in our family or extended family.

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

In my opinion, no basic structural action in favor of women has occurred. The little that has been done has been accomplished by the civil society and non-governmental institutions, not by the government. Look at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, with all its resources and powers. What has it done during the past decade? Nothing! These "friends" within the Ministry have not been able to introduce the foundations of healthy and equal relations between men and women, even within their own families.

What are the major demands of women?

Education, education and education are the major demands of women! Reforming the education system and laying the groundwork for the active participation of women in education is the most important demand of women. Our only demand is attention to education.

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

Democracy depends upon effective political parties. In my opinion, the political parties working to defend women's rights are one source of power women can depend on. Women must be involved in political activities and demand action from the parties. Women need to be involved in formulating and establishing the platforms of the parties, and ensuring they are responsive to the demands of women.

Another reliable source for women is the family. Women should consolidate their identity in the family so that all family members recognize the legitimacy of their activities and demands and defend them against external critics and pressures.

What do you wish for your daughter?

I have two daughters. One of them is studying for her master's degree in America and my second daughter is living here with me. She speaks several languages and is studying Law and Political Science at the American University of Kabul. I ask and expect all the girls in Afghanistan to study, like my daughters, and take part in determining the future of their country.

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

I had been extensively active in politics for a long time. I am the leader of a political party and I make sure it is a party where both men and women are actively present. One of the mottos of our party is gender equality. My second running mate in the presidential election (Ms Esmati) was a jurist. I have always endeavored to promote women's awareness and rights and I thank God who gave me this opportunity to defend women's rights. I ask the women of our country to shun superficiality and to go towards truth and light.

Do you have a specific message?

Speaking from the position of a friend to the youth, I ask them to pay careful attention to the current politics. It is essential that they scrutinise the conduct of the presidential candidates and vote for somebody who really deserves to become president.

"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