Equality/Women’s Rights

Afghan Women in N.Y. Reflect on 10-Year War

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Afghan war marks its 10th anniversary today. In Queens, N.Y., Afghan women talk about how the country has changed in many ways for the better, but also why they prefer their new lives in the United States.

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Steps to Reconstruction

Atif believes that the work done by Women for Afghan Women can help reconstruct her country.

"My philosophy is by trying to build yourself, you will build another Afghan woman, and another Afghan woman will build another Afghan woman. And finally we will reach Afghanistan and that's how the Afghan society will be changed. But if I don't do anything, things will not change." she said.

For a few months, Atif has been working on the case of Fakhia, an Afghan woman who only wanted her first name to be used. Fakhia, 31, only speaks Farsi and can barely communicate in English. She emigrated here a year ago after marrying an Afghan-American man.

"Due to security problems and the deterioration of life in Afghanistan, I got married to an American citizen and I was happy to come here in the USA, to live in a safer place," Fakhia said.

But Fakhia's husband died in a car crash last February, leaving her widowed. She has no family left in New York but she still wants to stay here, not wanting to lose the freedom given to women in the United States and to have the right to "circulate freely without being accompanied by a man" she said.

Fakhia speaks well of the current Afghan government for "providing facilities to improve the daily life of women, like better access to an education and to political life." But she says security problems hinder women by providing another pretext to prevent women to go outside unaccompanied.

Atif backs that up with recollections of the many times her university education was disrupted by safety concerns. "Most of the time, we heard news of a suicide bomber on our way to school or we sometimes had news telling that a suicide bomber will enter into the school. Then we got scared and had to leave the university."

Amid daily violence and frequent terrorist attacks in her country, Atif worries about the Taliban seizing power again. "They still have the power to come back at anytime," she said.

However, she assumes that as long as the United States has a presence in the country that won't happen. "I trust the Americans and I know that they will not let the Taliban take over," she said.

Wide Criticism

The Afghan war is widely criticized, including by several Muslim-dominant countries. Pressure for troop withdrawal is rising. But nearly 40 percent of Afghan women think Afghanistan will become a worse place if international troops leave, according to ActionAid's survey.

Fakhia agrees with that group. "When the Taliban were in power, women were badly treated. But now women have been gaining a little bit more freedom. If they come back, it would be worse for women because the Taliban will never tolerate such betterment for women."

When asked to focus on the destruction caused by 10-year old war, Atif said that was not the entire way to look at it.

"We should also see the positive points of the American deployment in Afghanistan," she said. "The girls now dress differently and go to school. Lots of buildings have been constructed in Kabul. I saw a lot of development in my country. When I saw Americans coming to our universities and offering us a lot of professional opportunities for women and men and providing us with computers and any kind of help they can offer, I think we should also see this positive aspect. We are all grateful for that."

Program manager Bahram agrees. "We do not want them forever in Afghanistan; we want them to leave Afghanistan but only when it will be the right time. I don't think that Afghanistan is ready yet to stand on its own feet." she said.

While Atif loves her country, she sees her future in the United States.

"When I first came here, somebody asked me, how do I feel. I said 'I feel like a bird flying.' When I was walking around here, I wasn't scared, I was totally satisfied. And now I know who I am and what I can do for myself, for my family and how I can build my personality," she said. "But in Afghanistan I was a very simple-minded girl who only knew the way from my house to school, that was all."

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Hajer Naili is an editorial intern for Women's eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in the Middle East and North Africa.

For more information:

"10 years on: women's stories from Afghanistan," ActionAid:
http://www.actionaid.org.uk/103034/10_years_on_womens_stories_from_afghanistan.html

Women for Afghan Women:
http://www.womenforafghanwomen.org/

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