By Corrie Hulse
This powerful panel, during the second session of Left Forum, dealt with the historical and ongoing struggle for equality and rights of Afghan and Pakistani women. After the viewing of Kathleen Foster’s documentary on the subject, Fahima Vorgetts of Afghan Women’s Fund and Dr. Fawzia Afzal Khan, Director of Women’s Studies at Montclair University, spoke to the experience of women living in what Vorgetts referred to as a "suffocated situation."
The women in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have long been entrenched in the fight for equality, not only within their governments, but within their societies. This panel posed the question of how one responds when their constitution affords them rights that their society does not recognize. In other words, how can women in these two countries find a way to create not only legal but also social equality? This struggle to find space in a patriarchal society for women's rights has defined their movement.
As the tense debate among panelists illustrated, the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been greatly complicated by the involvement of countries such as the US. Dr. Kahn argued that while it is imperative for the US to leave, this step alone will not solve all of their problems. She stressed that, “people locally have to take responsibility.” There comes a point where one can agree that the international involvement is a problem, yet acknowledge there are things that can and must be done locally to address the broader issues.
Vorgetts was more adamant about the detrimental role the US has played in the devolution of the system. She highlighted the fact that outside governments have worked to promote their chosen officials within the Afghan government, making it more difficult today than 30 years ago to run schools and shelters. This is not exactly the picture of a democratic liberation.
With the panel using every moment of time allotted, this is surely a discussion that is far from over. The ongoing struggle has been highlighted here at the conference as Malalai Joya, author of "A Woman Among Warlords" was denied entry into the US this week. Joya, who was scheduled to speak at the closing plenary, has become a powerful voice against government corruption in Afghanistan.The denial of the entry visa of such a prominent figure will surely have broader implications not only for women's rights in Afghanistan, but also for those around the globe who would wish to stand up for their rights.