Yassin Negah is the editor-in-chief of Porsesh [Question], a weekly magazine in Afghanistan, and the director of Writers Home, an association for young independent writers and poets. A graduate of the Kabul University Department of Dari Language and Literature, he works with the Afghan Young People's Cultural Association and the monthly publication Olgu [role model]. Negah is also a well-established young poet and has published several collections including, "Bitter like black tea" and "The fourth needle of the clock".
Photo : Jakfar Hosseini / Matthieu Hackière
Can you give us an example of a time your rights have been violated?
During the time of Taliban rule, I worked as a money changer and ran an exchange shop. One day, the Taliban came to my shop. They grabbed me violently and pulled me out my shop. They forced me to go with them to a barber's shop, and they ordered the barber to shave my head. I shall never forget that day.
What are the major achievements in Afghanistan since the time of the Taliban?
The most important achievement is the improvement of education in Afghanistan. Despite all the shortcomings and challenges, I consider the restructuring of the national education system a serious achievement.
I am also impressed with the way that private, independent, and free media have managed to establish themselves in society, even though the government has not supported them in doing so.
Finally, despite all the pessimism about the persistent violations of women's rights, there have been important changes with respect to the status of women in Afghanistan. The representation of women in the House of Representatives, the private sector, in civil society associations, in the media, in fact in all social spheres, has been constructive and promising.
What gives you hope for the future?
I believe the new Constitution is a step in the right direction. Whenever I read the Constitution, I feel that we have moved away definitively from our historical backwardness and ignorance, and entered a democratic and modern era. Our Constitution is much more progressive than the laws of our neighbouring countries. I believe in it and am working hard to promote it.
What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?
The security crisis is a major challenge. Also, the absence of a plan by the government to implement its strategies limits real progress being made. Furthermore, our government lacks transparency in how it leads its foreign policy.
Will present-day Afghanistan allow schools to once again be closed to girls and women excluded from social participation?
Never, never, never! There are some forces in remote cities and rural areas that resist the reopening and expansion of schools, but a return to the dismal situation of the past is out of the question.
Have the rights of any of your female family members ever been violated?
My family tried to prevent my sister from going to school, but I fought against them. It is her natural right and I wouldn't allow it to be violated. I am proud to say she is now studying at university.
In our extended family, though, there are some girls who wanted to continue their studies, but their families wouldn't allow it. They forced them to get married and deprived them of the privilege of studying.
What are the major factors that limit women's participation in social, economic, political and cultural spheres?
The low level of literacy prevailing amongst both men and women; the unemployment crisis; and the abhorrent traditions and customs, which existed in our culture historically and became institutionalized.
What are the major demands of women in Afghanistan?
First, women demand their political rights: the political system needs to open up and prepare the way for increased political participation by women. Women also demand the right to work and employment. In the social sphere, we are seeing women play an increasing role through their civil society activities.
If you could have one wish for your daughter, what would it be?
I wish, above all, that she will be a good human being. I would like to accord her so much respect that she would give thanks a thousand times a day for being a woman.
What have you done in your personal and professional life to fight against obstacles to women's participation in Afghanistan?
I am a writer and a journalist. With every word and line that I have written, in every article, on any topic, I have endeavoured to promote the values of democracy and human rights.
Any final messages you wish to share?
In Afghanistan, we have finally reached the conclusion that war is not a solution. Everybody needs to understand this. We have so many problems, but we must keep our attention on building a strong future. The challenge for all citizens is to see the glass as half-full, and not participate in the hysteria of claiming we are on the brink of collapse.
I also call upon all the people of Afghanistan to participate in the elections and vote. Regardless of the circumstances, voting is always better than not voting. I encourage everyone to scrutinize the candidates carefully, and vote for people whose hands are not stained with violations of human rights.
"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. Over 50 days, 50 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