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December 6, 2001 Afghan women vital to the peace process: forum



by Julie Roy

About 75 people participated in a public forum to explore ways to help the women and children of Afghanistan, held in downtown Montreal on Nov. 22.

“The situation of Afghan women was crucial before, but now that the world knows what’s going on, more people want to find solutions,” explained Lillian Robinson, principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, one of several groups involved in organizing the event.

Sima Wali is president of Refugee Women in Development (RefWID), and a policy advisor on Afghan human rights. Although she couldn’t attend the forum because she was in Bonn at the talks about the country’s political future, Wali sent a statement about the effect of the war on the women and children of Afghanistan to be read at the forum.

“The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly changing,” she said, an understatement. She was one of the only two women chosen to attend the United Nations talks on Afghanistan in Bonn, and has been widely interviewed about her determination to secure a place for women in the next Afghan government.

Asma Ibrahim, from the Afghan Women’s Organization, in Toronto, quoted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as saying that about half the Afghanistan population in crisis is women, and 20 per cent are children under five.

Organizers said they were faced with many prejudices when lobbying for women’s presence in the peace process.

“One of the main arguments for keeping women out of negotiations is that they are illiterate,” said Marzia Ali, program director for Action Refugiés Montréal. “This is completely false. Before the Russian invasion, women stood as judges, doctors and teachers.” Women even participated in Loya Jirgas (grand consultations).

“They have strong leadership skills, but now, they are leading from the shadows,” Ibrahim said.

When she was asked by a man in the audience if there was any other way than bombs to get the result the United States got in six weeks, Ibrahim said many people would still be alive if there had been discussion instead.

“The Taliban are a militia, so a good way to stop them would have been disarmament. In this crisis, the Afghan people have been held hostage. How many have to die so the world realizes this is not right?”

Sima Wali may be able to attend another forum in Montreal scheduled for late December.

For information, contact Amy Vincent at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, at 848-2373.