June 28, 2001

On the Occasion of the First Anniversary of
The Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women
By Nasrine Gross

Last June 28, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as the designated reader of the Declaration I was trembling when I was reading it to the 300-strong assembly of Afghan women, 45 non-Afghans and scores of press. It was hot and muggy in the conference room but I was shivering – – with apprehension and hope. As I finished the last word, I kept my eyes on the paper, afraid to look up and see the reaction. But then from the corner of my eye, I saw Nassima with tears in her eyes standing up and clapping, and then, the entire ssembly was on its feet, crying, cheering and dancing. So powerful was this message of inalienable rights and so great the sense of promise that even those who did not understand Dari cried and clapped and hugged.

In the year since, we have worked tirelessly in several parts of the world to make the Declaration and its Statement of Support known, understood and acted upon. We have met with thousands of women and men, young and old from all walks of life from across the globe. We have encountered no opposition to our mission of making this Declaration part of the peace process at the United Nations.

And yet, we have witnessed a drastic deterioration of the plight of Afghan women inside Afghanistan (and in the refugee camps). The continuing rape of their dignity and validity is tearing asunder the very life structure of Afghanistan. There is no doubt that the Taliban militias and their terror friends’ policy of making Afghan women outlawed non-citizens is one of the major causes of the unraveling of Afghanistan that is being reported (and witnessed) today. Within five short years, the effect of this total cancellation of rights, a first in the history of the world, has snowballed into a multi-dimensional disaster unlike anything the world has experienced. The social fabric of Afghan life, so dependent on its women before, is falling apart. The children who five years ago were six years old are now teenagers with no education who do not know what a book is. The traditional economy, so dependent on the women workforce, has practically died out. The ability of the community to fend for itself, where before women held alive the networks of relationships, is at its lowest ebb.

And all of this because Pakistan is intent on the Taliban militias to conquer Afghanistan. And all of this because Pakistan is intent on the Taliban militias to deliberately create a failed state in Afghanistan – – to make take-over that much more convenient. Today, both Afghanistan under the Taliban militias and their main backer, Pakistan, are ruled by decree.

I keep thinking what calamity would befall Pakistan if it relinquished this inhuman adventure? What danger would an independent and sovereign Afghanistan pose to the rest of the region? How much of a hazard to the global village can there be in the simple message of the Declaration, an Afghan state that believes in the rule of law, in its women, men and children, in education and equality?

I keep thinking if the people of the world are with us, why its body politic is still inactive? What is it afraid of? Where is its will for responsible and accountable action? Where are its boundaries of respect for human dignity? Where is the threat?

I know one thing for certain: I cannot forget the hope lit up in that conference room last year. I cannot deny myself or my sisters or Afghanistan, no matter what support Pakistan provides to its Taliban militias. We have worth, no matter what Pakistan thinks. We have promise, no matter what Pakistan does.

And so, I will not give up; I will not let myself down: This Declaration is our right; it is our dignity; our legacy. Onward to victory!

First Anniversary of the Declaration