By Zia Ur Rehman

July 13, 2012

KABUL – Despite daily prejudice and Taliban death threats, Afghanistan’s women parliamentarians are playing a key role in securing the future of Afghan women.

More than 10 years after Taliban militants were driven from power in Kabul, women are making slow but steady progress in securing their basic rights, parliamentarians Shukria Barakzai and Samia Azizi Sadat told Central Asia Online in exclusive interviews.

Barakzai, a native of Kandahar Province, represents Kabul Province, while Sadat was elected from Parwan Province.

Women’s development on the rise

Development of the country cannot be ensured without involving the female population in the country’s political and socio-economic life, they said.

Afghan parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai told Central Asia Online in Kabul June 23 that Afghan women are playing an important role in the development of their country. [Zia Ur Rehman]
Only in the post-Taliban period have women been able to assume political positions, Sadat said. Now, female representation in parliament is constitutionally secured at 27.3%, Barakzai said.

Women parliamentarians have voiced concern about violence against women, child marriages, women’s health and education and other social issues, Barakzai said.

A record number of females are attending schools and universities and public health for women also has improved during the past nine years, Sadat said.

In addition to concrete developments that have improved the lives of Afghan women, the government is working to change public attitudes, she said.

“In Afghanistan’s most traditional areas, conservative social attitudes impede the progress of women, but the situation is changing gradually,” Sadat said.

Barakzai, an outspoken MP

Barakzai is known for her bold stand in parliament over different national and women’s issues. She is a women’s rights activist and the founder of “Aina-e Zan” (“Women’s Mirror”), a weekly publication that focuses on women’s issues.

“From the Soviet intervention to the civil war between the warring mujahedeen groups and atrocities of the Taliban, every single Afghan has been affected badly. I am also one among these affectees,” Barakzai told Central Asia Online June 23. About 65,000 civilians were killed in Kabul alone during the civil war.

“The Taliban were the worst forces, who forbade women from working outside the home, forced women to wear burqas, banned women from attending school at all and punished them with a public whipping for the appearance of ‘immodesty,’” she said. The Taliban beat Barakzai with a rubber whip one afternoon in May 1999 for being outside her home without a male relative.

The atrocities of the past motivated her politically and socially, she said.

“When the Taliban imposed a ban on girls’ education, I secretly headed a network of underground schools for girls and women and this network also helped me to form a group of social activists in Kabul,” Barakzai said.

Barakzai’s political career began with her appointment in 2003 to the Loya Jirga, a group of representatives that discussed and passed the country’s new constitution after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. She won election to parliament in 2005 and 2010.

Sadat survived 2 assassination attempts

Sadat was elected to parliament in 2005 and re-elected in 2010.

Afghan parliamentarian Samia Azizi Sadat told Central Asia Online June 23 in Kabul that the country’s development cannot be ensured without involving Afghan women. [Zia Ur Rehman]
Under the Taliban, she also ran an underground school in her Kabul home. Some 600 female students studied in 24 different classes.

“In 1999, the Taliban knew about my school,” Sadat recalled. “A number of Taliban attacked my school and severely beat me with sticks and punished the girl students with lashes. I was in bed for seven days and was not able to walk because of injuries.”

“Despite the brutal torture by the Taliban, I never lost my mission and continued to teach women and girls,” Sadat told Central Asia Online from her home. “It was indeed a dark age, and it was my belief that the Taliban would be finished one day.”

Before formally entering politics, she taught math at Parwan University. “Teaching was, in fact, a key reason for my popularity in Parwan Province, and local people, including tribal elders, religious clerics and social activists, forced me to run in the parliamentary elections in 2005,” she said. At President Hamid Karzai’s request, she also heads Parwan’s education department.

Sadat has survived two assassination attempts. On May 20, 2007, she was heading to her office when her vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Parwan. She escaped unhurt, but six passing students were injured. Some months before that incident, she survived gunfire aimed at her car.