Essential rights of Afghan women relate to the Constitution of the state of Afghanistan. The constitution of a country is the highest law of the land which describes the essential rights of each citizen as well as responsibilities and obligations of the state and the nation vis-ý-vis each other. Constituting the identity card of legitimacy, sovereignty, and political, military and territorial independence of a state, the constitution of a country is initiated from the will of the nation and guarantees the rights that human dignity bestows on individuals.
On the other hand, political groups and parties of a country are situated at the level of the government on a lower plane than the constitution, and all of them without exception must respect the constitution and apply it. The manner of implementing the constitution
constitutes the particular platform of each party and group, on the basis of which, each group participates in elections and the winner becomes in charge of the government.
The Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women has been created for the future constitution of Afghanistan. No political groups (which in the current situation are tantamount to political parties) have had a hand in it. Planners, writers, drafters and signatories of this declaration have only been Afghan women from all over Afghanistan.
Organizers of the Dushanbe Conference that created the Declaration were only members and woman friends of Negar-Support of Women of Afghanistan. No political group of Afghanistan was or is involved in any aspects of organizing or financing of the conference or the Declaration.
The Declaration was created on the basis of two critical points about Afghanistan, which up to now have not received the attention they deserve. One is about the legitimacy of a state within its own borders, and the other is about the self-determination of a nation in the eyes of the world.
In the first place, during the last four years, the Taliban militias, for the first time in the history of Afghanistan, have officially revoked the essential rights of Afghan women by means of written decrees. It should be noted that similar to what happened to women
during the Communist regime and the subsequent Mujaheddeen governments, the Taliban today trample the rights of Afghan men also, without officially revoking these rights. By contrast, in relation to the twelve million women of Afghanistan, the Taliban have outlawed these rights with written decrees which they have implemented in practice. In the case of Afghan men, it is an issue of violation of human rights. In the case of the revocation by force and edict of the rights of Afghan women, it is an issue of the constitution of Afghanistan, and therefore, a political issue.
In the Declaration, all the twelve million women of Afghanistan are equally included regardless of their social and political affiliations; they not only have these rights but also own them for themselves. For the original three hundred signatories of the Declaration (the writer being one of them), it is very important that the major supporting documents of this Declaration are the Constitutions of 1964 and 1977 of Afghanistan as well as declarations and conventions of the United Nations. The definition of an Afghan is taken from these two constitutions, which identify every Afghan woman a legitimate Afghan and recognize for each one of them essential rights, without regards to language, race, ethnicity, locality, religion, sect or historical background.
Furthermore, for the Declaration, national traditions of Afghanistan have been paramount and not the traditions of a particular social group or locality. The Declaration totally respects local and social traditions of Afghanistan and whoever wants to follow them are
completely free to do so. But for the Declaration, forcing every one by law to follow specific local and/or social traditions is totalitarian and supremacist and therefore not acceptable. Based on this reasoning, the wearing or non-wearing of the chadari (burqa) and scarf, which is part of social traditions of Afghanistan, should remain a social
tradition like before, on a voluntary basis, a choice of the Afghan woman and within the authority of her family; it should not be implemented as law for every woman. In addition, the Declaration is in no way related to the personal interrelationships and mores of Afghan families, such as the relationship between husband and wife. Finally, laws on the second level of legal hierarchy, emanating from the ministry of justice, like those pertaining to inheritance, are also considered outside the scope of the Declaration.
The ten articles of rights mentioned in the Declaration are all rights that Afghan women enjoyed in the past and none is extreme but essential.* They are not from Hollywood actresses or westernized mentality but are completely in tune with the Afghan history and
national character. Contrary to current propaganda, the Afghan national character, which emanates from our Afghan national traditions, is moderate, forward looking and civilized, without extremes of fanaticism and prejudice.
For example, in 1965, this writer along with hundreds of other Afghan girls including Jews and Hindus, was a student in Kabul University. Many of us went there without a chadari or scarf, with full backing of our families and official authorities; we studied with boys in the same class and had many male teachers; we wore short skirts, pale nylons,
high-heeled shoes, with make up on our face and polish on our nails; we moved about freely and without an escort and chose our physician ourselves; the number of women engaged in government work, business, schools, agriculture and other social and economic activities was noticeably on the rise; and we enjoyed all our essential and political rights including the right to vote. At the same time, we wore, as we do today, a scarf for wakes and other religious activities. There were also women who regularly wore a scarf or chadari and they were neither prevented from doing so, nor anyone judged them negatively. Perpetrators of all types of crimes, from rape, kidnapping, and theft to any kind of felony, were sent to a court of law for punishment. All these activities neither lowered our dignity nor hurt the honor of the Afghan men. No Afghan jurist, leader, intellectual, nor any of the farmers, rural people or even the illiterates ever told us that our actions were against our Afghan character or against our religion or that they created discord among social groups. During a trip to the country, in 1975, I found this situation more extended and in full swing. In fact, indications are that until 1996, the rights of women had not changed much. On a trip to Dushanbe in June of 2000, among about seven hundred women refugees who were mostly from the provinces, not Kabul, I found the situation to be much the same.
Afghan women comprise fifty percent of the Afghan nation, and their rights constitute one of the national interests of Afghanistan. Revoking these rights by decree is against the best interests of the country. This revocation has not emanated from the will of the people of Afghanistan but through brute force of one group who is trying to consolidate the grip of a foreign power, without regard to representing the people or defending the rights of the nation. In this situation, it is clear that legitimacy has been lost and does not exist. The Taliban decrees are an irrefutable record of this lack of legitimacy, and the
Declaration, an irrefutable witness to the wishes of the Afghan nation.
Neither supremacist edicts, nor drama, nor short-term undertakings will resolve the problem of the Afghan woman. Rather, we must take this tragic situation, as an opportunity. We must choose a path that will not only cut to the core of the problem and prevent its repeat in the future but also carry our voice peacefully to the world. This core lies in the Constitution and the Declaration itself is a legitimate, appropriate and direct path to it.
As for the second point regarding the international aspect, the essential rights of Afghan women is not an emotional embarrassment full of fear and dishonor; it is one of the key fundamental issues in the problem of Afghanistan today vis-a-vis the international community. This revocation of the rights of Afghan women is a situation that is directly connected to the self-determination of the Afghan nation. By revoking the rights of fifty percent of the Afghan nation, i.e., those of women, not only the economic weight of the country has been cut in half, but the credibility of Afghanistan as a civilized country capable of governing itself has been decreased in a systematic manner. This has been done purposefully – and successfully – so that, in the eyes of the world, the legitimacy of Afghanistan as an independent and sovereign country is damaged. Pakistan has worked hard in this area and continues to do so and has been able to skillfully manipulate the international media to imperceptibly make this point to the world community.
Without the Afghan people raising their voice in this regard, our silence is construed as agreement and the situation will become more dangerous. In my view, the Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women is one of the most crucial documents that the Afghan nation has created for itself in exile, that shows our own position as Afghans,
clarifies our wishes, and nullifies the manipulation of our enemies. For those in the world who portray us as an illiterate and uncivilized country and hence without the ability to govern itself, this Declaration is a totally modern, professional, logical and documented defense of our Afghanness. We believe that those internal and external groups involved
in finding a solution to the problem of Afghanistan can use this document as a supporting document in their own literature, and thus by referencing it, can strengthen their own claims. With this document Afghanistanís international friends also can enter into activities on its behalf in a sure and convincing manner.
The Declaration underscores the wish of the Afghan nation to a return to the rule of law, the behavior of states within accepted norms of conduct through channels of laws. In much of the twentieth century, Afghanistan represented a good example in the rule of law and was recognized as such in the family of nations. In spite of the many shortcomings that have now led to many criticisms, Afghanistan was essentially a country of laws and believed in resolving conflict through discussion, negotiation and due process. Not once did Afghanistan invade another country, and to govern, it resorted to the opinion of its citizens, as witness the processes of the Constitutions and Loya Jirgas. The Declaration
believes the time has come for us Afghans to remember this wonderful history and remind the world of it as well. It is time to utilize this great past in the lawful manner that our heritage attests to and our human dignity warrants. It is time to say to ourselves and to the world ëthe way of smuggling and whipping is not ours; we are people of writ
One must be mindful that any movement and especially a womenís movement is always a difficult and slow process. Particularly Afghan women raising their voice face bigger challenges because the many enemies of Afghanistan create confusion, disinformation and propaganda not only among the international community but also among us, Afghans. I am however certain that the Afghan nation is sure of its own worth and best
interests and will help the Declaration in this process. Today, restoring the rightful place of Afghan women is restoring the rightful place of Afghanistan in the family of nations.
Negar-Support of Women of Afghanistan is planning and with its supporters including myself, has already started work to make this Declaration a part of the process of the United Nations for a just, honorable and durable peace of Afghanistan so that it will eventually become part of the next constitution. We believe that the path of war for restoring Afghanistanís independence and sovereignty is no longer possible. The only road remaining is to create an international outcry that denounces might and force and becomes an effective pressure in support of Afghanistanís self-determination, like the international pressure that helped terminate apartheid in South Africa. We therefore
want to obtain active endorsement from womenís groups, governments and international organizations of the world. For such a plan to succeed, however, the voice of the Afghan nation is a must, not in the form of drama, killings and noise, but in a rational and professional manner, to give weight and validity to the international pressure. Although the human rights venue is one such way, it is not a political way and therefore not a response in kind. The Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women is a political measure and forms one of the most important documents in this area.
* For a full text of the Declaration, see Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women.