Conflicts & War

Activist in Time magazine’s influential list optimistic about Afghan women

Kabul, Sep 28 (EFE).- Activist Mahbooba Saraj, listed in Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2021,” is optimistic about the future of women in Afghanistan.

Saraj, at her combative best since the Taliban seized power, has pledged never to call it a day in her struggle for women of her country.

“To be honest I see a good future for the Afghan women in the short-term and long-term, particularly with the struggle we are doing. But the important thing is that we should not give up,” Saraj told EFE in Kabul.

She championed the cause for the rights of women and children in Afghanistan from 2003 when she returned after 25 years of exile.

Saraj expressed firmness in continuing their “struggle” for their “rights” under the Taliban, following successive protests by women in major Afghan cities in this regard.

“You can gain nothing in this world, until you struggle for it. Even if it is your legitimate right, no one will give you your right until you stand for it. Rights are not given, they are taken,” she said.

Over the past two decades, Afghanistan saw progress in women’s rights, following the end of the oppressive first Taliban government between 1996 and 2001, when the Islamists did not allow females to study or work.

The percentage of girls in schools increased from almost zero to 39 percent in the past 20 years.

Government offices saw the same trend, with women accounting for 28 percent of the labor force.

“We do not want to lose our right to education, to work, our right to take decisions about our lives, the freedom to be able to travel from one area to another without a male chaperon,” Saraj said.

“We should have the right to go to the doctor, if we are sick. We should have the right to accept or reject a marriage proposal.”

During these two decades, women even managed to occupy important government positions as ministers, deputy ministers, directors, and senior-level diplomats.

“We want these simple rights, we do not want something extraordinary,” said the founder and head of the Organization for Research in Peace and Solidarity and the Afghan Women Skills Development Center.

However, since the Taliban returned to power on Aug.15, some of those rights have already begun to disappear.

According to Amnesty International, the Taliban are “are steadily dismantling the human rights gains of the last 20 years.”

In less than two months, they have committed “targeted killings of civilians and surrendered soldiers” and imposed restrictions on women, civil society, and freedom of expression.

Moreover, Human Rights Watch reported that in the western province of Herat, the Taliban “are committing widespread and serious human rights violations against women and girls,” such as the imposition of dress codes or restrictions on access to employment or education.

However, Saraj has decided against fleeing the country – somethings tens of thousands of desperate Afghans have resorted to – and staying back to defend women’s rights.

For this purpose, the activist is prepared to speak directly with the Taliban, especially Mullah Akhund Baradar, one of the founders of the movement and deputy prime minister of the current government, who, like her, also featured in the Time magazine list.

“I have lots of advice to give him, lots of messages and hopes to share with him. I hope they will allow me to meet them and to tell them what I want,” she said,

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