• BAAG hosts Afghan women's rights defenders in London

BAAG hosts Afghan women's rights defenders in London

28 June 2013

Three prominent Afghan women’s activists have been attending events in London aimed at finding ways to do more to protect Afghan women from violence.

Nadia Hanifi, Mary Akrami and Arezoo Qanih are taking part in a series of events arranged by BAAG. 

The women participated in panel discussions at Amnesty International UK and held meetings with British officials and MPs as well as their counterparts in British women’s organisations.  They have visited women’s shelters in London to learn more about women’s protection programmes in the UK.

Most international forces are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year. Violence against women - already widespread - has is reported to be on the rise.  And many Afghan women’s activists fear that if proposed peace talks with the Taliban get underway, it could lead to their rights being sold out for peace.

With this in mind, the three women have drawn up a list of steps that donors, the Afghan government and the international community need to take to help protect women’s rights. 

The delegation is calling for robust support for Afghan women’s rights up to - and beyond - 2014.  This includes taking action to ensure that women can participate in any future peace process - and to ensure that the process respects women’s rights.  The women also recommend that donors continue to fund women’s shelters, which have come under fire from conservatives within Afghanistan, and support action to protect women’s rights defenders.

BAAG Director Jawed Nader says, “This is a crucial time for Afghan women.  As the transition process continues, it is vital that the British and Afghan governments work even more closely with Afghan women’s groups to ensure their hard-won rights are protected. “

Some background on the delegation:

Nadia Hanifi is perhaps best known as the presenter of the revolutionary Afghan TV talk show, Niqab, or “The Mask”.   First aired in 2011, the show lets the victims of violence tell their own stories.  Ordinary Afghan women speak to Nadia about the abuses they have suffered,   wearing a mask to conceal their identities.  The show tackles taboo subjects such as rape and domestic violence and seeks solutions for the women appearing in it.  Some of the stories told on “The Mask” have been so moving that they have reduced the film crew to tears.   Nadia also works as a programme manager and legal advisor with the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre, helping to raise awareness about violence against women.

Mary Akrami is Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre. She established the first women’s shelter in Afghanistan more than ten years ago.  Staff at the shelter help women recover from the violence they have suffered and provide them with legal advice, literacy classes, counselling and basic skills training.  Mary has also been a tireless campaigner for women’s inclusion in peace processes in Afghanistan, at both a local and national level.  Like many other female human rights defenders in Afghanistan, she has received death threats, but has refused to give up her work. In 2007, she received the US State Department’s Women of Courage award.

Arezoo Qanih works with the Empowerment Centre for Women in Afghanistan.  She began working with Afghan women when she was young, helping her mother run a clandestine vocational training centre during the time of the Taliban.  She is on the Advisory Board of the Afghan Civil Society Forum (ACSF) and is a member of the steering committee of the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN).)  She has participated in a large number of conferences on women’s issues around the world.