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17 June 2015

Interview with Humaira Rasuli of Medica Afghanistan: “Our rights are being sacrificed in the name of peace.”

On her way back from an International women's peace conference in The Hague, Humaira Rasuli, Director of Medica Afghanistan, called in to the head office of medica mondiale in Cologne. In her interview, the women’s rights campaigner talks about young Afghan women’s desires, what she hopes the government will do, and that the majority of women would be willing to sacrifice their rights in return for peace in their lives.

What do you appreciate most while being on a trip in Europe, especially in Germany?

What I really like in Europe is the climate and the movement. I enjoy walking, honestly, because in our country it is not possible for women to walk. I just call the driver and then he comes and I jump into the car. Travelling is also not easy in Afghanistan. For example, if a woman goes out without a man people still say that she is a prostitute because there is the possibility for her to be alone. These kinds of discriminations are a problem we have to face every day. 

If you asked a young Afghan woman on the street about her biggest wish for her future, what would it most likely be?

It’s a difficult question because the conditions for Afghan women vary considerably from one place to another place, from city to countryside, from south to north. There are provinces where they don’t know what cars look like – they are very poor. But if you are talking about city people, their answer would be: “We don’t want to sacrifice our rights.” At home my father always jokes: The international community brings some hope to women, like giving you the key to a car and teaching you how to drive it, but without teaching you how to protect yourself – and then they leave. It’s very difficult for women to keep their direction without any of the instruments, protection mechanisms and support they need. And we don’t feel that the government would be fulfilling its responsibility to protect women rights if they were not being pressurized by the international community to do so. The international community should continue with its financial and technical support for Afghanistan. Otherwise they have really lost the commitment they claimed when they came flying the flag of women rights.

What does life look like these days in Afghanistan - especially for women? What are the main challenges a woman has to face?

As you know Afghanistan has been going through complex transitions. Many people lost their employment; there are shortcomings in healthcare and other services in the rural areas; the new president took office in Kabul. The international troops departed and new enemies are entering our country. So there are lot of these general topics. For Afghanistan, this transition is a real storm. I was recently at a conference and presented the findings of the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) which works to increase the participation of women. They have been monitoring the security situation over the last three years. Their report shows that the security situation has improved only in a few provinces. In the others it has worsened. Women’s freedom of movement has been restricted. Thousands of women lost their husbands and fathers and now they don’t have any income. So women are forced to prostitute themselves or sometimes start begging on the street. It’s really difficult: sometimes they even sell their children. However, this news does not make it to Europe. Assassination of women is also increasing. For example: In 2015 there have been thousands of killings and beatings. The former presidential candidate and Member of Parliament Shahla Ata was killed inside her home. The AWN findings show that the overall security situation has worsened. This affects access to justice; it affects enrolment at schools; and it affects access to health services. So with all these beatings, forced marriages, rapes, sexual harassment and other humiliation of women: that cannot be called security. Violence against women increased by 28%. The reason could be partly insecurity. But it is also partly due to the fundamentalist and extremist views on women rights, which are growing from day to day.

Are there plans by the government to talk to the Taliban again?

There is indeed a lot of negotiation currently taking place and ordinary people don’t know that. Medica Afghanistan was very concerned about the new efforts being made against women’s rights so now we have a strategy including “red line” conditions. For example, the strategy includes the desire for peace with Taliban, but only if the constitution is not changed and women’s rights are not bypassed. Maybe they will accept this strategy proposal but we don’t believe so. One problem is: The Afghan people are simply fed up with war. The peace council conducted a survey and it showed that 80% of women say that they would be prepared to give up women’s rights in exchange for peace. So our participation might be sacrificed in the name of peace.

In your opinion, what’s the most important thing the government should do to make life easier for women and to prevent violence?

I would say: establish the rule of law, ending corruption and impunity. These are really basically the steps they should take. Fundamental steps towards democracy and justice: a rule of law treating everyone as equal. The second thing is: empowering women. Only 24% of Afghan women know how to read and write. Although 2.4 million girls are going to school, they drop out of schools before second grade. So then we end up with a completely illiterate and uneducated country. This investment in education and empowering of women would be an investment in peace-building. Also, there is a type of public feeling that the international community decided to split Afghanistan, decentralize the power and give different parts to different rulers. We don’t want that but people believe the international community thinks it’s the only easier way because the people in the southern part of the country are really strict and they will never accept women’s rights.

You have a diploma in Business Administration and soon a degree in Law and Politics. What was the reason for studying again?

The main reason was because it is difficult to conduct advocacy if you don’t know the basic principles of law. You cannot challenge the judges, the prosecutors and whoever you are advocating with. Furthermore, my plan is to take my degree in gender science. And for me it was really clear that if I study law with gender I will be a good advocate and maybe a good politician.

If you studied law in Afghanistan what role does the Koran play in the study? How does it work to say this is the Koran and this is the written law?

We have different faculties, one is sharia law and another is political science and international law. We don’t find anything in the Quran which is promoting inequality or which is against women’s or children’s rights. According to the Quran, everybody is equal. The problem is its interpretation and the different perceptions by the fundamentalists. The idea of politicization of Islam is growing.

How do you find time for yourself to “recharge your batteries” after your study and your work as Executive Director of Medica Afghanistan?

Usually I leave home at 7 am then I return home at 8 o’clock at night. I go directly from the office to university. But after 8 o’clock I don’t work for two hours: I take dinner with my two cute sons and my husband. After that we play together or we sing a song: we like these things. I have a lot of fun with these things.

How old are your sons?

The first one is seven and the second one is two and a half.

When my sons are in bed then again I review my lessons of the day, analyse the lecture topics and complete some administrative tasks. Sometimes I’m too tired to do it but most of the time I do it. On Friday, that is the time when I do nothing. I share time with my parents or go to the countryside or some park or garden.