Voices

A look at the world through the eyes of a woman.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Massouda Jalal – Giving a Voice to Women in Afghanistan

We have to use this opportunity—it is men’s dream that women won’t participate because of security. It is our aim that women will participate.
Women’s rights activist, Kabul, August 28, 2004

Elections will be held in Afghanistan, this Saturday, October 9, 2004. For the first time ever, men and women, over the age of 18 will choose a new president.

Hamid Karzai, the US picked interim president, consultant to Unocal, with rumored ties to Halliburton, (http://sf.indymedia.org/news/2002/01/113169.php), will face 17 other candidates, including a woman, Massouda Jalal. The first Afghan woman ever to run for president.

Not only is Massouda Jalal fighting cultural, religious and sexual obstacles in her path to the presidency, she is literally fighting the fear and intimidation from the remnants of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ruling warlords of her country. She is fighting the marginalization that all women face when entering an area deemed off limits.

Who is Massouda Jalal? She is a 41 year old mother of three young children. She is a pediatrician and medical lecturer at Kabul University. She has said publicly that she represents the people of Afghan and comes to this election with no blood on her hands. By all accounts, her message is simple. “…She promises to disarm the warlords, run a “healthy”, transparent government, wipe out bureaucratic corruption, and staff governmental departments with professionals and technocrats, not former generals and warlords.” She is a strong supporter of the disarmament program in Afghanistan. Her candidacy is all about change.

Read more at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5931226.

If only I had a candidate to vote for come November 2nd who believed in an open government without corruption and ties to others (Halliburton), who understands the needs of citizens and supports peace and disarmament. I would be much more excited about my vote. Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot I like about John Kerry, I just wish he would say the war in Iraq is wrong now, it was wrong then and call George Bush and his lot to an accounting for it.

It is historic that a woman is running for president in Afghanistan just three years after emerging from such a repressive government, like the Taliban. At that time women were banned from working, education, had travel restrictions and forced to wear a top-to-toe burka (a bee suit as Bill Mahrer says). “A public tarring and feathering of female sexuality” said Polly Toynbee in The Guardian (9/28/2001).

According to Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/afghanistan1004/):
“Throughout the country, militarized political factions – militias and remnants of past Afghan military forces who came into power in the wake of the Taliban’s defeat – continue to cement their hold on political power at the local level, using force, threats, and corruption to stifle more legitimate political activity and dominate the election process […] Women, both as voters and as political actors, remain marginalized.” An atmosphere of fear is still the norm for women in Afghanistan, despite some significant changes and improvements in their lives over the past couple of years.

And despite all of this, Massouda Jalal has the courage to step forward and speak her mind. Shame on us here in America,- where a woman has yet to be nominated by a major political party for the presidency. Take a moment to remember Shirley Chisholm and Patricia Schroeder, who didn’t wait to be invited to the table and stepped forward on their own to dream and run for president. When will we finally see ourselves as the candidate and stop bowing and catering to “the best choice” to represent us – which most likely isn’t Mr. President but MADAM PRESIDENT!

Check out an excellent source about the elections in Afghanistan at the the Ms Magazine online site http://www.msmagazine.com/fall2004/afghanwomen.asp. They remind us that meaningful equality requires the rule of law, that this election in Afghanistan is critical to the women and children there.

The Afghan government estimates that 10 million have registered for Saturday’s elections, less than one-half the general electorate. 41% of these registered voters in Afghanistan are women. They have the power to change things if they vote. So do we.

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