KABUL: Leading Afghan women’s rights champion, author, lawmaker Fawzia Koofi is a presidential hopeful in what is a man’s land. Named this year as one of the world’s “150 Fearless Women” by US website The Daily Beast, Koofi, 36, is a widow with two young girls.
Talking about the opposition she faces in Afghanistan she says “”I’m happy sometimes when they oppose me because it means I’m something to them, they feel I am strong — and I also give them the required punch, I think.”
She accuses the president — Hamid Karzai — who is backed by 1,30,000 NATO troops — of being prepared to compromise on women’s rights for political gain among conservatives, including Taliban insurgents.
The Taliban, ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001, banned girls from going to school, whipped women in the street if they wore anything other than the all-enveloping burqa and stoned to death those accused of adultery.
Even now there are more guns than women on the streets of Kabul. But Koofi — who managed to get a good education against the odds — says the past 10 years have provided “golden opportunities” for women.
Her biggest fear is that these gains will be the first to be sacrificed in efforts to bring the Taliban into reconciliation talks, and perhaps even a sharing of power after NATO troops pull out in 2014.
“Compromise is happening already. Talibanisation is a process, people within government are already promoting Taliban ideology and Taliban thinking,” she said.
“There is great uncertainty and confusion about the future, and worry and concern among women.”
In March, Karzai indicated support for an edict by the Ulema Council, the nation’s highest Islamic authority, saying “men are fundamental and women are secondary”.
The edict went on to list a series of prohibitions against women, including working in the same offices as men and travelling without a male companion, and suggested that in some circumstances wife-beating was appropriate.
Karzai “openly supported this, he said this is what the people of Afghanistan want”, said Koofi, who chairs parliament’s women and human rights committee. “I don’t think this is what they want. It is true we are all Muslims, but our understanding of Islam is different from the understanding of the Taliban.
Koofi urges the West to continue its support for Afghan women’s rights even after the withdrawal — and is committed to doing all she can herself, even if it means risking her life.