Insight with Zarghuna Kargar: The women of Afghanistan

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By Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi


Women would be the biggest losers if Afghanistan’s peace plan includes a deal with fundamentalist elements of the Taliban, according to Rachel Reid, who hosted Frontline’s talk with Afghan journalist Zarghuna Kargar.

Reid sais she had lost hope that peace in Afghanistan would include progress for women. Reid, currently working at Human Rights Watch, recounted a conversation she had with President Hamid Karzai last summer, in which he asked whether he should stop children dying or send girls to school. “He has showed himself capable of trading away women’s rights,” said Reid.

But Kargar, who has been documenting the lives of Afghan women for more than 10 years, argued that Afghanistan “cannot go back to what it was 10 years ago.”

Women have lost so much [from the war]. Mothers have lost their sons and husbands. Women have been raped. They have had big losses. For these women peace is what matters.

We want peace but not at the price of losing what we have achieved in the last 10 years. Democracy doesn’t work without women.

Kargar’s knowledge on what matters to Afghan women comes from presenting Afghan Woman’s Hour, a BBC World Service Trust radio show covering a wide range of issues and in which women were able to tell their stories.

The show discussed taboo subjects like homosexuality, sex and the dire consequences for women and girls of ancient traditions such as ‘baad’ where Afghan girls were given away as gifts to end local disputes. Kargar said:

One of the [problems] is lack of information. Some people think this the way that Muslims do things. They don’t. Traditions which have been made for men, by men, are continuing.

In her new book, “Dear Zari: Stories from Women in Afghanistan”, Kargar shares the unique stories of Afghan women, whose problems often seem insurmountable. One woman became an outcast because she did not bleed on her wedding night, another was forced to dress and act as a boy (and then a man) to make up for the absence of sons in one family.

There are many tales of injustice, abuse, violence and rape, but there are some positive, inspiring stories, such as the widow who is determined not take the only route that seemed open to her and go begging on the streets. Instead she started a kite-making business with her children. Such stories inspired and encouraged her to include her own experiences in the book, said Kargar:

I hope people who read it will respect what we disclose about our lives. The courage they [Afghan women] have, there is so much resilience in them for a better tomorrow. They came with such huge trust and told us their stories. That’s why I fell in love with them.