Speech of RAWA member in the Conference on South Asian Education Systems

Organized by Alliance for Education Development (AfED) in collaboration with the Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF) and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Lahore (Pakistan), February 1-2, 2006

Dear sisters and friends,

First of all, on behalf of Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), I would like to thank Alliance for Education Development (AFED) and especially Tahira Abdullah, who has always been an activist and freedom-loving woman who expresses her love and solidarity with RAWA. It’s mainly because of her that I have the opportunity to participate in the conference on Girls Education.

RAWA is the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women, struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women’s rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977. Education has been the main focus and priority issue of RAWA, and we strongly believe that only the weapon of education can empower the women of Afghanistan to gain political awareness and participate actively in struggle against fundamentalists. Because of this very fact, despite various problems and obstacles as well as insufficient resources, RAWA has taken the responsibility to administrate hundreds of literacy courses, schools and orphanages in Afghanistan and Pakistan based on its own teaching policy, promoting free-thinking and equality among all people regardless of gender, race or religion.

In countries like Afghanistan, issues such as education can not be understood without taking into account the whole political system. But no doubt, the decades of war from 1979 through the present has badly affected the education sector and deprived a generation of the opportunity to be educated. The puppet regime of Russia destroyed our educational system in the name of democracy and women’s rights, the fundamentalist Jehadis were first who not only called doors of schools “gateways to hell”, but also looted and burned books, schools and universities and kidnapped and rapped hundreds of young school girls and women. The Taliban were the most misogynist and ignorant rulers, officially banning girls from studying at schools, universities and other educational institutions, kept female teachers and doctors from their jobs and converted girls’ schools into religious madrassas.

RAWA member delivering speech in the conference in Lahore
RAWA representative delivering speech on girl’s education
in Afghanistan in the conference in Lahore, Feb.2, 2006.

The millions Afghan refuges in Pakistan and Iran were the most deprived victims of war and fundamentalists rule. In comparison to the 3 million refugees based in Pakistan, only a few thousand had access to education. Until recently there was no common educational policy. Fundamentalist Jehadi groups and NGOs misused funds they received for education of Afghan refugees. For instance, they would receive funds for 50,000 textbooks to be printed while they would only print 5,000 with very bad quality. More importantly, what was the mentality they were trying to build through their so-called education? Many textbooks were not of any use to the students, as books which were supposed to teach chemistry, biology, physics or Persian… were full of Hadis and Quranic verses. The methods and language used in these books showed no understanding of students, their psychology or their well-being. Imagine children in first and second grade who were learned mathematics like this:

5 guns + 5 guns = 10 guns Or, if a Muslim kills 5 infidels out of 10, how many will left alive?

And the shocking and painful fact is that from the very beginning, the US was the biggest supporter of fundamentalists in educational and cultural fields. As an example, Unocal paid $900,000 to the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Omaha, Nebraska to print textbooks promoting a fundamentalist vision. Two years ago, USAID reprinted through the same university, and these textbooks were no different from those earlier written by Jehadi groups. The Washington Post in March 23, 2002 disclosed only parts of the Jihad Schoolbook Scandal.

As an outcome of this critical situation, Afghanistan has one of the world’s worst literacy rates, estimated by UNICEF at between three to four percent for females and 28 percent for males.

Since once again the fundamentalist jehadis of the “Northern Alliance,” which have long been oppressors and violators of women’s rights and education, are back in power with the support of the US and its allies, no radical change has happened in the economic, social, political and educational life of the people, particularly women. In order to deceive the outside world and make happy their masters, the Northern Alliance pays lip service to democracy and women’s education… but their mentality and treatment of women is the same. The biggest threat to Afghan girl’s education is the domination of “Northern Alliance” criminals. That is why in most provinces girls don’t feel secure, are afraid of going outside their homes and rarely have access to educational institutions near their homes.

12 years old Rahima, who was gang-raped in Takhar province on her way to school and girls like Muska who commit suicide to save their honor are clear examples of what life is like for Afghan girls under the Northern Alliance. In short, for the youth, especially school-going girls, life in Afghanistan is characterized by paralyzing physical danger. As a recently released report by Amnesty International explained, violence against females in the country is such that “Daily Afghan women are at risk of abduction and rape by armed individuals. The government is doing little to improve their condition.” Acts of violence against women are rarely investigated or punished.

Since 1987, RAWA has established a number of schools for the refugee children to impart basic knowledge and modern thoughts that the fundamentalists have denied them. Though our schools were closed due to lack of funds in 1996, we are happy to say that with donations received from supporters around the world, RAWA opened around 15 schools in Pakistan. We also have hundreds of literacy course for Afghan girls and women in almost all provinces of Afghanistan and in refugee camps in Pakistan.

During the Taliban period, RAWA, taking a great risk, managed to organize countless home-based classes throughout Afghanistan. Moreover, RAWA’s orphanages offer safety, shelter, food, clothing and a better quality of education in many cities of Afghanistan and Pakistan for hundreds of children.

With further funds, RAWA hopes to establish schools equipped with laboratories, computers, halls, libraries and other modern facilities throughout Afghanistan.

In order to provide all Afghans with good quality education, schools must remain free of cost from primary level up to university. Because of corrupt political and social system, our people are getting poorer and poorer every day. In such circumstances, talking about privatization of education or the establishment of private institutions will, at the end of the day, only fill foreigners’ packets and expand colonial culture. An American university will open in the near future where only warlord’s children can study. Similarly, because both the ministry of foreign affairs and higher education and the embassies are in the hands of the criminal “Northern Alliance”, scholarships never are given to the deserving students.

Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world. Just as its economic, cultural and social issues cannot be addressed without a radical change in the political system, its education is also a political phenomenon. By political change I mean the overthrow of the criminal warlord “Northern Alliance,” whose power is the root cause of all the miseries and sufferings of our people. Until and unless these criminals are removed from political power, one can’t hope for an essential change in education sector.

Lastly I would like to say that only those governments, organizations and individuals are true friends of Afghan people who not only don’t consider “Northern Alliance” their friends, but also strongly oppose them. We want you not to be deceived by their fashionable and stylish appearances or their speeches in the name of democracy and women’s rights. Just as our people are suffering from the economic terror, political terror and social terror of the “Northern Alliance”, to same extent are worried about education and the dark fate that is waiting for them without it. This is not only RAWA’s message, but it the voice of our people, who want the world to hear them and join hands with them in their struggle against the enemies of democracy, freedom and peace.

On behalf of RAWA, I once again thank you very much for your kind feelings, support and solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and its freedom-loving organizations.

Speech of a RAWA member in a seminar of RAWA school teachers in Peshawar

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