Journal of South Asia Women Studies

2002 International Women's Day: For Women, Afghanistan is Everywhere

Editorial Note by Enrica Garzilli

As you have read in our back issues of the JSAWS, Vol. 7, No. 1 (October 5, 2001) and of the International Journal of Tantric Studies Vol. 5, n. 1 (March 30, 2001), our Editorial Note was on Afghanistan, war, and women.

On November 27, 2001 I received an email by Susan Celia Swan of the US feminist group V-Day including the announcement press advisory on the Afghan Women's Summit to be held on December 4-5, 2001. Unfortunately, the Summit was closed to the public and the press. Only the opening statements of solidarity on the 1st day (8:30-10 AM) was open to media. A press conference followed the conclusion of the Summit.

1. The Afghan Women Summit

Fifty Afghan women leaders took part to the Afghan Women's Summit for Democracy held at the European Commission in Brussels, in collaboration with the U.N. Gender Advisor to the Secretary-General and UNIFEM. The Afghan women's group included educators, health care providers, political activists, and other women commited at grassroots organizations. They came from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the Central Asian Republics, the United States, Canada and Europe.

The summit was held in an EU building and backed by Euro-MPs. The Global Fund for Women supported the meeting with a grant of US$30,000. In 1999, the Global Fund also supported with US$ 7,000 the Revolutionary Afghan Women Association (RAWA), "a political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan" (, including some 20,000 women and based in Pakistan.

The Summit was designed to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women and Peace and Security, which was adopted in y. 2000 and reaffirmed the importance of the equal participation and full involvement of women in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution. "Speakers called for women's rights and full participation of Afghan women in new government" said the media advisory.

Three of the Summit participants, Sima Wali, primary Afghan organizer of the Summit and in close contact with former Afghan King Zaher Shah, in exile in Italy, along with Seddighe Balkhi and Amena Afzali, came directly from the Bonn table, where they were serving as delegates. The Summit was chaired by Judge Navanethem Pillay, South African President of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Hibaaq Osman served as Facilitator and Jacqui Hunt, as Rapporteur.

Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, opened the Summit with a call for Afghan women to be "fully represented in future political organs" of their country.

Women leaders from around the world and prominent guests were present in solidarity and joined the discussion. A few names: Anna Diamantopoulou, European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs; Eve Ensler, Artistic Director and Founder V-Day, Playwright; Denise Fuchs, President of the European Women's Lobby; Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); Asma Jahangir, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions; Asma Khader, Board of Directors Equality Now; Angela King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, United Nations; Laurette Onkelinx, Belgian Presidency, Belgian Minister for Employment and Equality; Hibaaq Osman, Founding Director Center for Strategic Initiatives of Women; Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights; Maj Britt Theorin, Chair of the Women's Rights Committee in the European Parliament.

The convening groups of the Summit were the European Women's Lobby (the largest coordinating body of national and European non-governmental women's organizations in the European Union -- based in Bruxelles; Equality Now (an international human rights organization working to end violence and discrimination against women -- based in New York; V-Day (a global movement to stop violence against women and girls, which promotes productions of Founder and Artistic Director Eve Ensler's as well as a series of innovative campaigns and initiatives --, also based in New York; the Center for Strategic Initiatives of Women (a non-partisan, non-profit organization working with women's rights organizations in the Horn of Africa — based in Washington DC; the Feminist Majority (the largest feminist research and action organization in the US — , based in Arlington, VA and Los Angeles, CA).

2. The Brussels Proclamation

At the close of the Afghan Women's Summit, Afghan women released the Brussels Proclamation outlining in detail their comprehensive vision for the future and specifying their immediate reconstruction needs.

The Brussels Proclamation addresses four central components of Afghan society, education and culture, healthcare, refugees, and human rights. It set forth a range of demands including:

  1. The right for women to vote and to be entitled to equal pay and equal access to health care, education and employment;
  2. An emergency plan for reopening schools by March 2002 for both girls and boys, a new curriculum, and training of teachers;
  3. The inclusion of Afghan women lawyers in the development of a new constitution which would include the principles of non-discrimination;
  4. The rebuilding of hospitals and provision of vital medicines, treatments and services, including psychological counseling and mother and child healthcare;
  5. Central inclusion of women in the Loya Jirga, the Grand Council which traditionally is the one-time gathering of male representatives. These men should be the wisest — even though is difficult to imagine wise men in these 23 years of war, guerrilla and violence in Afghanistan — the most respected local citizens and the most powerful or well-connected ones, all representatives from different tribes and factions and selected by their local leadership.

First place in the various lists of recommendations was given to education and culture. We cannot but remember that, at the best of times, the overall literacy rate in Afghanistan was less than 20% amongst males and less than 5% amongst females — even though hese figures are considered by some as very optimistic.

"Education and culture transcend the reality of our lives" proclaimed the group of Afghan women "Their healing power and creative energy could act as a catalyst for peace and as an antidote to our national wounds by safeguarding our cultural heritage from disappearance. By reviving education and culture, we Afghans can all have something common to share and be united."

The first issue Afghan women addressed was indeed Education, Media and Culture, spotting as priorities to send "a group of women to Afghanistan for assessing the schools' condition; developing an emergency plan for re-opening schools by March 2002 for both girls and boys and reconstruction of the schools that have been damaged or destroyed; Reopening of institutes of higher education". The second issue they addressed was Health, referred to as a need not only of women, but of everybody in the country; the third was Human Rights and the Constitution, focussing on the rights of women and children; and the last issue was Refugees and Internally Displaced Women, underlying as a priority the "Avoidance of forced repatriation of refugees as it violates basic human rights according to UNHCR guidelines on repatriation." They asked for internally displaced women "Security and protection; Health care services; Education on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases; Education on birth control and family planning."

3. Declaration of Solidarity

In solidarity with the Afghan women gathered for the Summit, women's rights activists from Belgium, Croatia, France, India, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States met in parallel session in Brussels to formulate support strategies for the implementation of the Brussels Proclamation. Inspired by the Brussels Proclamation, the group made the following commitments:

  1. To undertake an advocacy campaign to ensure that the funds allocated by the international community for the reconstruction of Afghanistan are conditional on
    1. the participation by women in decision-making over the granting of the funds;
    2. the inclusion of women's non-governmental organizations among recipients of the funds;
    3. and the use of the funds for implementation of the priorities outlined in the Brussels Proclamation.
  2. To declare on International Women's Day 2002 that for women "Afghanistan is Everywhere.
  3. To create an international task force of women's rights lawyers with particular expertise in drafting legislation and constitutional law.
  4. To provide political support to the Ministry of Women created by the Bonn Agreement, and to undertake efforts to foster voter education and the participation by women in elections.
  5. To coordinate a funding effort to support grassroots community initiatives by and for women in Afghanistan and neighboring countries, which will make available at least $1 million over the next three years.
  6. To promote United Nations recruitment of women for employment in the various agencies within the UN system operating in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.

4. Following up of the Summit and RAWA

The Summit and the echo it had in the press shaked the international policy of the USA, always very commited to projecting their image of human-right defender to the world (but why the USA have supported a Taliban regime that since the very beginning brutally oppressed women? And why they are blind and deaf in protecting Palestina against the erosion of the territory by Israel?).

After the Summit, the Project of the Feminist Majority underlined: "We have changed U.S. foreign policy. We now must make it clear to the world that Afghan women's full participation is essential for the rebuilding of a peaceful, democratic Afghanistan."

On Dec. 12, 2001 Bush signed a relief act for Afghan women and children. The bill authorized education and health care assistance for Afghan women and children living in their home country and those living elsewhere as refugees. An Afghan refugee identified only as Ferita spoke at the event. She said the Afghan people have suffered for over 25 years under the Soviet invasion, "during the chaos and brutality of the warlords now known as Northern Alliance", and under the Talibans.

A delegation of Afghan women from the Summit was scheduled to carry the outcoming message all over the world. Their first stop was a meeting with the European Parliament on Thursday, December 6th.

On the International Human Rights Day, Dec.10, 2001, six Afghan women delegates, with representatives of the Afghan Women's Summit conveners gave a press conference at Equality Now in New York, moderated by actor Meryl Streep.

The same day, RAWA protested rallies in Peshawar and Islamabad, reminding world of rapes by Northern Alliance. According to the Pakistan Observer, in connection with the International Human Rights Day, RAWA staged a big protest demonstration in front of Press Club Peshawar against the top class Afghan leadership and demanded restoration of democracy, human rights and women's rights under the banner of the United Nations. RAWA rejected Bonn pact, asked UN to restore rights and said that said that UN should not support the Northern Alliance.

"The new interim set-up in Afghanistan lead by Hamid Karzai consisting mainly of Northern Alliance leaders is not acceptable at all to the people of the country and especially the women, because the NA is the most murderous violators of human rights", said RAWA women who participated in a protest demonstration held in front of main UN building on the same day.

5. International Result

There are two different political standpoints between the Afghan delegates of the Summit, and RAWA — and I am sure that many others are, e.g., among women living in rural Afghanistan. However, the most important outcome of the summit does not underline differencies, but commonalities (the Brussles Proclamations can be read also in the RAWA webpage) of the Summit and the feminist supporting groups.

To declare on the International Women's Day 2002 that for women "Afghanistan is Everywhere" means that all over the world we, NGOs, feminists and women all over the world, are joined in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan "not only because" as it is read in the Declaration "we all identify with their suffering but also because we understand that the same conditions of violence, oppression, invisibility and other forms of inequality that plagued Afghanistan are universal."

We open the eighth year of publications with the paper Brother Cobra, Mother Bitch: Ethics and Ecology in Marathi Women's Storytelling by Vidyut Akuljkar. Dr. Aklujkar is the Coordinator of Hindi Programme at the Asian Studies Department, University of British Columbia at Vancouver, Canada.

Starting from this paper, we have changed our encoding system to support UNICODE fonts. If you use a Windows system, you can download a free UNICODE fonts from Microsoft.

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In the new titles you will find the review of Antica India. Dalle origini al XIII secolo D.C., by Marilia Albanese, The Partitions of Memory. The Afterlife of the Division of India, edited by Suvir Kaul, Faces of the Feminine in Ancient Medieval and Modern India, ed. by Mandakranta Bose. We have also started a new section on books received.

The address to send review copies of books is:

Enrica Garzilli
Asiatica Association ONLUS
Via Vincenzo Bellini, 4
20122 Milano

Happy reading!