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28. June 2019

Jamila Afghani, Medica Afghanistan: “Women’s rights cannot be sacrificed to pay for peace”

“In a representative survey in 2018, the Afghan population rated their living conditions as worse than any other people at any time before,” says Jamila Afghani. She has been a peace and women’s rights activist for more than 20 years and is certain that “women are affected more often than average by the consequences of the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan”. Jamila Afghani was appointed in February as the Director of our partner organisation Medica Afghanistan, succeeding Humaira Rasuli who led the organisation for many years. She has won many awards for her commitment.

The short video portrait of her and her work was filmed for the Aurora Peace Prize in 2017 when she was one of the finalists. As a young girl she was forced to flee her home during the civil war and seek refuge in Pakistan: “My sisters and their children died in the refugee camps without food or protection.” Ms Afghani was able to complete her school education in Pakistan and go on to study law, Islam and international policy.

Women’s rights, peace, liberty: “The Taliban have more influence now than ever before!”

Just a few months after the start of the international military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, the peace activist returned home with great hope and a keen desire to rebuild her country. However, today she makes a sobering assessment of the significance of the military intervention for peace, women’s rights and freedom in Afghanistan: “Eighteen years and almost two trillion dollars later, the country is still deep in chaos and the Taliban have more influence than ever before,” she declares.

Together with many other women’s rights activists, she has campaigned for a peaceful reconstruction of the country and for equality in the way people live together. Soon after her return from Pakistan, in 2002 Jamila Afghani set up the women’s aid organisation “Noor Educational Center”. The name ‘noor’ means ‘light’, symbolising the light and hope that she and her colleagues want to give thousands of women and girls in coming years, by offering literacy and other educational courses. Jamila Afghani is convinced that it is not in the interests of Islam to deny women and girls education or entry to mosques: “We have discussed this with many religious leaders. So far we have over 6000 imams from 22 provinces in our network.” Her ideas do not stop at access to education or mosques: Ms Afghani is actively working to persuade the imams to make a joint statement on women’s rights, publicly and clearly denouncing so-called ‘domestic’ violence, forced marriages, rape and other breaches of human rights inflicted upon women.

No peace without women and their rights

The problems in her country only strengthen Jamila Afghani’s desire to shape its future. This Spring she gave a lecture to students at the University of Frankfurt, Germany. She told the audience about forced marriages between 12-year-old girls and men of 60 – which were actually a result of the parents’ wish to protect their girls from kidnapping or rape. She specified how high the child mortality is in her country – 60 per cent of children do not see their fifth birthday – and how widespread sexualised violence within the family is – almost 90 per cent of women experience it. Anger sparks in her voice and eyes as she explains that women were only allowed to take part in two of the many peace talks with the Taliban and other armed groups. “Women’s rights cannot be sacrificed to pay for peace!” There is a long way to go still until women’s rights and long-term peace are secured in her country, but her sense of justice and her courage enable her to continue the struggle for women’s rights every day. And the solidarity of her fellow activists also gives her strength. Welcome to the team at Medica Afghanistan, Jamila!

Author: Christine Vallbracht, Online Officer at medica mondiale