Afghan Women Activists Speak Out Against The Taliban

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai wants to talk with Taliban fighters who choose to denounce violence as way to end the eight-year war in his country. But Afghan women activists say engaging the Taliban would be a setback for women's rights. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with Afghan lawyer and prominent woman's rights activist Najla Ayubi. Ms. Ayubi is visiting from Kabul where she is in charge of a program on governance and women's rights.

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai wants to talk with Taliban fighters who choose to denounce violence as a way to end the eight-year war in his country. But Afghan women activists say engaging the Taliban would be a setback for women's rights.

In our studio today to talk about what compromise with the Taliban may mean for women, we have Afghan lawyer and prominent women's rights activists Najla Ayubi. Ms. Ayubi is visiting from Kabul, where she is in charge of a program on governance and women's rights. Welcome to the program.

Ms. NAJLA AYUBI (Lawyer and Women's Rights Activist, Afghanistan): Thank you so much.

COX: Let's begin with this, give us an idea of what life is like for women in Afghanistan under Karzai and how you fear that that life may change if there is to be a coalition with the Taliban.

Ms. AYUBI: First of all, I would say that after fall of Taliban, the situation of life of the woman got a bit improvement on the political process, which we have the women parliamenterians in parliament of Afghanistan, 25 percent, as well as the provincial council, we have women, 25 percent person, as well as in the private sector in civil society. But having all of these achievement, unfortunately, the women's situation remains in a very difficult situation in Afghanistan.

COX: On a day-to-day basis, what is life like for the average woman, if there is such a way to describe her?

Ms. AYUBI: Yes. Actually, daily we are facing insecurity, even if you're living in such big cities like Kabul. Lack of education is another point that every day the women are facing, not having access to their education as well as to the health care. That's why if the Taliban were filling the power, of course, if you're facing such difficulties currently, how will we be able get our rights as a citizen of Afghanistan during that time, when the power will be shared, specifically with the government?

COX: Now, there was a lot of talk from high profile leaders at one time about supporting women's rights in Afghanistan from people like the former first lady Laura Bush, from Cherie Blair, the wife of former British prime minister, Tony Blair. Some say that international support has been a lot of talk without a lot of follow through. What do you say?

Ms. AYUBI: This is true - this is the most important point that you have raised, which is we really suffer when we are hearing lots of promises. That's why we are very critical to our government as well as to the international community that when they are promising, they have to keep their promises. Unfortunately we cannot get this continuously.

COX: Ms. Ayubi, it would seem from the outside looking in that Afghan women are in a peculiar situation that is not in some ways unlike the civil rights struggle that took place in this country half a generation ago. Except one major difference, you are trying as a nation to achieve peace. And there are those in Afghanistan who say that peace will only come if there is some sort of involvement and power sharing with the Taliban.

So in order to achieve that goal, you would have to give up your efforts to achieve women's rights. So from where you stand, how do you balance the desire for peace and the hope for women's rights when they seem to be in conflict at the moment?

Ms. AYUBI: Of course we are keen to have the peace in Afghanistan. But if this peace will compromise our rights, then we don't want such a peace because we are half of the population. You cannot ignore half of the population.

COX: Again, making a comparison to the Civil Rights Movement in this country a half century ago, it was dangerous for people to put their positions out publicly. You're an activist. You are a woman. Given the circumstances and the conditions which you describe in Afghanistan politically and culturally today, how difficult and how dangerous is it for you and others to fight for the cause in the way that you do?

Ms. AYUBI: Honestly speaking, when we are going out from our home every day, I don't think that I will be back at home alive because this is not just - we're afraid of the insurgents or we're afraid of the suicides, we have problems with the government itself. Because when we do speak out, even the government of Afghanistan, I'm not saying 100 percent of people who are working within the government, but we're receiving lots of written calls, written comments from the people even who are working within the government. I can say myself, I have put myself in such a situation, because I dont want the thing that I face through the city kids of war that the next generation they will face the same.

COX: Najla Ayubi is an Afghan lawyer and civil rights activist. She joins us today to talk about women's rights in Afghanistan.

Thank you very much. It was interesting.

Ms. AYUBI: Thank you so much.

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