The women’s narrative campaign aims at gathering and sharing stories of women from all over the country to find their common pains. The idea sparked based on the claims that there is a difference of view between urban and rural women with regards to their demands and their definition of constitutional rights.
In an interview with CSHRN, Atiyah Mehraban said that the Taliban and even some foreign countries claim that only urban women are concerned about violation of women’s rights and their meaningful representation in the peace talks. Therefore, they initiated the campaign to find out the validity of such claim.
CSHRN: What is the ultimate result of the campaign?
Mehraban: We have worked on the fundamental rights of women, the first of which was the right to education of women and was highly appreciated. We also worked on the right to work, civic activity and political participation. Currently we are working on the rights of war victims.
We found that most women are aware of their right to education. However, since issues such as political participation and civic activism have not been discussed in many areas, they are less known to women. In general, according to our findings, no woman in any province has expressed disregard for the right to political participation and the right to education.
CSHRN: How can your campaign act as an effective movement for achieving their rights?
Mehraban: Unfortunately, in the last two decades, efforts to protecting women’s rights have been mostly treated as projects. Although some significant progress is achieved, sincere efforts have not been made to ensure preserving women’s rights. For instance, the fact that a woman in the capital of a province is not aware of her fundamental rights indicates that efforts to protect women’s rights have been superficial. Though we are not against projects and securing funds, we wanted our work to be an independent and voluntary movement. Even when the media found out about our voluntary efforts, they started supporting us.
CSHRN: Where do you publish the stories?
Mehraban: So far, these stories have been mostly published on Facebook and Twitter, but since some women do not have much access to social media for various reasons, we have several radio stations in all provinces that broadcast our program called “Women’s narrative”. We also work capable writers and share their articles on reputable sites and popular media.
CSHRN: How do rural women send their stories to you?
Mehraban: A number of our friends, through their personal relationships, collect and send them to us.
CSHRN: Given the Taliban’s view, especially with regards to women, how optimistic are you about positive outcome of peace talks?
Mehraban: Several interviews with the Taliban show that they are aware of the changes that have taken place in Afghanistan. In my opinion, the young and educated forces in Afghanistan today are not at all comparable to the citizens of the years of Taliban rule. Unfortunately, the negotiating teams have not agreed on a framework for nearly two months; it is unclear how will they reach a conclusion on major details and discussions, such as the structure of the system. Therefore, I am not very optimistic about the peace talks.
CSHRN: How will the Taliban’s presence in power impact women’s rights?
Mehraban: Unfortunately, women are still in a bad situation and do not have access to many of their rights and some of them are not aware of their legal rights. Currently, in the Taliban-held areas, women do not have the right to work and education, except in very limited cases where local agreements have been reached. If the structure of the future government changes in favor of the Taliban, it will have negative impact on their status.
CSHRN: Some believe that restrictions on women’s rights will be temporary. What do you think?
Mehraban: Even with the current government, it took five years for mother’s name to be optional on the citizens’ ID cards. When women are treated this way by the government that they support, not much can be expected from post-peace government.
CSHRN: Apart from security issues, what other problems do you think hinder women’s progress in society?
Mehraban: One of the main challenges is the patriarchal nature of the society and people’s extreme views. If some men do not intend to murder a woman in a short dress, it is because the law does not permit them to. Unfortunately, the enforcers of the law themselves do not believe in women’s rights and it has to change.
CSHRN: Do you think a peace agreement is acceptable at the cost of some restrictions on women’s rights?
Mehraban: If the Taliban do not allow women to work or restrict the areas of their work, it would not be acceptable. People have fought and lost their lives to protect these values for years and no one can ignore them. The main decision-makers should be the families of the victims of the war.
CSHRN: How can the peace talks be used as an opportunity for women?
Mehraban: If a peace agreement is reached, urban women can use the opportunity to communicate with rural women. Currently, due to the lack of security, we are not aware of each other’s pain. Perhaps a peace agreement will allow women in towns and villages to form groups and talk about issues that are necessary and that they have not yet talked about.
CSHRN: What are your concerns about the outcome of the peace talks?
Mehraban: Historically, every time Afghan women have made some progress, an incident has interrupted it forcing them to start over. I am concerned that the peace agreement maybe a short-term ceasefire after which war will begin forcing the literate generation of the country to leave for other countries.
According Ms. Meraban, so far there has been no independent and effective movement by women. Everything with regards to their rights is reduced to sporadic movements called women’s rights activists. She concluded that Afghan women have either not worked on valuable issues or not acted as seriously on important issues as they should have.