In the October 16 issue of the Los Angeles Times, Rone Tempest reports on the women who live in the Khaiwa Refugee Camp in Pakistan. Camps such as these, on the Pakistani-Afghan border, have long been breeding grounds for fundamentalist male militants in Afghanistan. But the Khaiwa camp is a center for militant feminism in the form of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
The Khaiwa camp was founded in the early 1980s by a moujahedeen commander who believed in universal education. He allowed RAWA workers into the camp to teach and counsel the families there. Khaiwa is known as a place for families to send girls who are threatened by religious restrictions or unwanted sexual advances. Danish, age 15, was sent there after her father was killed by agents of the former Communist government in Kabul. Her mother still lives in Afghanistan.
Women in the Khaiwa camp refuse to wear the head-to-toe covering known as a burka. The girls study science and the Koran in a mud-walled school and would like to go to college. Dr. Qaeeum, the physician who lives in the camp, says his infant daughter will be educated ?from cradle to grave, until PhD.? Under the Taliban, girls cannot attend school and women are prohibited from working outside the home.
RAWA was founded in 1977. Its founder, known by the single name Meena, opposed Soviet occupation and joined resistance forces to fight against it. Considered an enemy by both the Communist regime and the fundamentalists, she was assassinated in a Pakistan refugee camp in 1987. In Pakistan, the group operates hospitals, schools and orphanages in the camps where two million Afghan refugees live, but most of their activities are secret, since fundamentalism thrives in many of the camps.
RAWA sends women on dangerous missions into Afghanistan to set up clandestine schools for girls and to use hidden cameras to document abuse of women. Secretly taken photos and videos of public executions and floggings can be seen on the association?s website http://www.rawa.org. The recent documentary ?Beneath the Veil,? by London-based filmmaker Saira Shah, was made with the help of RAWA workers who escorted her in Afghanistan.
The women who live in Khaiwa camp do not believe that the opposition Northern Alliance will be any better for them than the Taliban. They are concerned that the United States and its allies will form partnerships with the Northern Alliance or with other groups that also have a history of brutally oppressing women. ?We condemn both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance,? says camp school Principal Abeda Mansoor.
When the Taliban came into power in 1996, it claimed to be a ?protector of women.? Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar rescued two girls who had been kidnapped by a warlord. ?The parties that were in power before the Taliban were in some ways worse,? says RAWA activist Sahra Saba. ?Many girls were raped. Many others committed suicide. But [the Taliban] set the wheel of history back hundreds of years.?
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