Throughout the last year, as the director of a documentary film that follows three Afghan women, I’ve been peppered by friends and family with a recurring question: What do Afghan women want? Or more specifically: Do Afghan women want the U.S. military to leave Afghanistan, or to stay and protect their rights? Everyone was so accustomed to seeing Afghan women portrayed as victims by the media that it was hard for them to imagine the strength of the women we were meeting. For many, the conclusion seemed to be a binary choice between U.S. military presence and supporting Afghan women’s rights.
I could never come up with a simple answer largely because not all Afghan women agree on this or a myriad of other issues. I CAN say among all the women we met there is consensus that decades of conflict and foreign military intervention has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that war is not the answer. Thirty-three consecutive years of war—10 of them shaped by U.S. military presence—have Afghanistan riddled with land disputes, family conflicts, and scars left by the violence and intimidation of warlords, whose criminal activities continue to infiltrate every aspect of daily life.
Our film follows Shahida Hussain, a former midwife who practiced in Kandahar throughout the Taliban’s reign. It follows Hasina Safi, a young mother and activist living with her traditional family in Kabul. And it follows Shinkai Karokhail, a parliamentarian and the daughter of a tribal leader. These women want peace. They want lasting peace based on the rule of law, not on which faction or militia has the most guns. They also believe that sustainable peace will only come about if women have a voice in creating it.
This isn’t idle talk or wishful thinking on their part. We had the opportunity to see Safi, Karokail, and Hussein in action. We filmed women coming to Hussein in Kandahar in search of help resolving land issues because they were getting nowhere with corrupt officials. We filmed women fighting to have a voice in a national assembly (on the issue of how to create peace!) and watched as one got booted out for challenging the continued dominance of former warlords. We filmed Karokail campaigning against corruption. We saw them risking their lives to participate, not for wealth or power, but to bring security and democracy to their communities and their country.
For Afghan women, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Taliban are not the only group trying to deny women an active role. Many government officials – both Afghan and international – pay lip service to the importance of involving women. But they consistently fail to appoint women to key positions or stipulate that receipt of international dollars be contingent upon women’s participation. And they continue to dole out power and influence to those who have amassed wealth and to armed fighters rather than to those who have earned the trust of ordinary Afghans.
As Hasina Safi told us she wants to make the future easier for her daughters. She knows that to do this there must be peace. And to make peace, women cannot be the victims of peace between armed men. She wants the world to respond - not with more soldiers and ammunition - but with the demand to hear her voice.
Gini Reticker, an Academy Award nominated Producer and Emmy-winning Director, is one of the creators of the acclaimed 5-part series Women, War & Peace. She is the Director of the third episode, Peace Unveiled, and below she discusses the evolving role of Afghan women in peace building and rebuilding their country. Peace Unveiled airs tonight, Tuesday, October 25th. (Check Local Listings.)
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