Advocacy By, With Or For Afghan Women?
This session was based on the experiences of women closely associated with Afghan and refugee women's organizations in Canada.
It was based on panelists' experience that well-intended people who in their personal and professional capacities attempt to advocate on behalf of women in crisis frequently fail to capture the complexity and multidimensionality of women's needs.
Based on their own experiences of advocacy, it primarily sought to provide participants with skills, strategies and techniques for meaningful and strategic engagement with women on whose behalf they would be lobbying. Through anecdotes and examples, panelists also discussed issues of diversity and cultural sensitivity that advocates should be aware of to avoid imposing their own cultural values and preferences upon women in need, who may have different needs and very different realities. Some highlights from the session are as follows:
- Marzia Ali Action Refugees Montreal, Canada
- Asma Ibrahim Afghan Women's Association, Canada
- Adeena Niazi Afghan Women's Organization, Canada
The session was prefaced with an excellent historical account of Afghanistan and the complex realities of its women's lives. The fact that the mainstream media almost completely ignored the plight of Afghan women until after 9/11 was stressed by all panelists in the context of vicious treatment endured by Afghan women under various regimes since the Soviet invasion in 1979. Panelists noted that the United States' attempt to actually court the Taliban Regime in the mid-1990s while fully informed about its brutality towards women and minorities was especially disturbing in light of the Bush administration's more recent attempts to justify the war against Afghanistan in terms of women's rights and welfare.
Panelists also highlighted the unintentional damage done by Western attempts to "liberate" women from their oppression. They elaborated with examples of typical superficial attempts to overthrow the symbols of culture and religion like veiling and the "burqa" instead of far more crucial issues like protection from poverty, starvation, reproductive and sexual rights. They stressed that all too often such efforts made no attempt to start with ground realities and did more harm than good by drawing attention away from key issues and wasting scarce resources.
Panelists also focused attention to the issues facing thousands of displaced Afghans living in exile in neighboring and also more geographically distant countries. They expressed distress over "voluntary" repatriation attempts by governments of countries in which Afghan people are living as refugees. They stressed the fundamental distinction between voluntary repatriation, as practiced by people who had the option to go home to their native countries without fear of starvation and insecurity, and the repatriation of Afghan refugees who were "asked" to essentially return to a complete lack of choices and impoverished and unsafe lives within Afghanistan.
2002 AWID Forum, Session #313