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Advocate for Afghan Women's Rights - 2002-09-11

English Feature #7-35452 Broadcast October 22, 2001

The Taleban regime in Afghanistan, now under attack for harboring Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, has been strongly criticized since assuming power in 1996 for its treatment of women. Today on New American Voices, we talk with Zieba Shorish-Shamley, an Afghan woman deeply involved in the struggle for human rights, and particularly women's rights, in Afghanistan.

Zieba Shorish-Shamley, an elegant, dark-haired woman in her forties, is the founder and director of a Washington-based organization called the Woman's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan.

"I have been involved in the Afghan issue, particularly the Afghan women issue, since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But then when the Taleban took over Afghanistan, the situation of Afghanistan went from worse to the very worst that you can imagine. And I decided to give up my career - I'm an anthropologist - to dedicate all my time and all my life to fighting for the rights of the Afghan people, but with a special focus on Afghan women and girls."

To bring the plight of women in Afghanistan to the world's attention, Mrs. Shorish-Shamley and other representatives of the Women's Alliance attend national and international forums dealing with human rights, testify before Congress, meet with State Department officials, give lectures and organize seminars. They have met with Secretary General Kofi Annan and other officials of the United Nations. They have brought their case to the International Court at the Hague. In all these appearances, they seek to call attention to the situation of women under the Taleban.

"The Taleban with their edicts and brutal rules, which have no basis in Afghan culture or Islamic religion, make basically the Afghan woman a non-being, invisible, without the most basic rights that are required for human existence. Since those women had no voice, we had to become their voice, and mobilize the international community, and try to bring the focus on the miserable condition of Afghan women and children."

Mrs. Shorish-Shamley and her colleagues have worked for years to raise consciousness of the abuses of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan. Ironically, she feels that the terrorist attacks of September 11th have helped her cause.

"I wish to God that the tragedy in New York--the World Trade Center--and the Pentagon would have never happened. But somehow it seems that it has shaken the world, that it has begun to realize that it is real, that these people are, the terrorists and Bin Laden and the Taleban and the extremists, are dangerous, that it is not just the Afghans or somewhere out there, or in third world countries, that the people are suffering, that the danger of these people is to the entire humanity."

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the focus of the message that the Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan is trying to spread has, for the time being, shifted a little.

"Right now we are very much involved in trying to raise awareness that it is not Muslims and it is not the Afghans who have attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But that it is these people, Bin Laden and the Taleban and all these the extremists, who are the enemies of civilization."

Zieba Shorish-Shamley was born in a small village in Afghanistan. After finishing high school, she was sent to the United States to attend college. By the time she received her doctorate in anthropology, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, and her return to her native country was blocked. Now she does not consider the possibility of going back to Afghanistan to live, even should the political situation allow it.

"I go back only to help, perhaps with education or whatever, but my life is here, in the United States. Actually, we should be out here, because we should be watching the new government that comes to power, as to what they do with the rights of women."

Mrs. Shorish-Shamley says that she gets the greatest moral support in her work on behalf of Afghan women and children from her American husband and American-born daughter. In addition to being an advocate for human rights in Afghanistan, Zieba Shorish-Shamley is a poet. Much of her poetry reflects her love for her native country, and her sorrow at its present condition. The latest poem, published on the Internet, was written this past August, and is entitled "Ruins".

"The story is about … the elders are telling this young girl how beautiful it was. 'Once we were free. We had schools and teachers, we learned, we could see, work hard for the nation, women as well as men --it was viewed as normal, and not a mortal sin." And she is saying, 'I am a child of war, a girl of age fourteen. Fighting to survive, tortured by what I've seen. War killed mother and father, I am all alone….' So the elders are saying there was peace and there was beauty, all of that, she says all I see is destruction, and ruin, and hunger."

Next week on this program, a new American from Azerbaijan talks about winning the diversity visa lottery.