Afghanistan: Women’s Rights

The plight of Afghanistan is one as complex as it is sorrowful. After decades of conflict spanning from Russian invasion, through American proxy war, civil war, Taliban domination and the War on Terror, the state of human rights is as crushed and mangled as the flattened buildings of Kabul. In light of the imminent U.S. withdrawal of troops from the country, concerns for the protection of women’s rights have become increasingly serious.

To promote awareness of the issue, Cambridge Amnesty hosted a film screening of the documentary ‘A View From A Grain of Sand’, directed by Meena Nanji on her second visit Afghanistan with the primary aim of comparing life under Taliban rule to conditions after the regime’s expulsion. It retells the horrors of the great power shifts within Afghani decades of conflict by following three women drastically impacted by the reign of the Taliban: Sharpiray, a teacher in the permanent refugee camp of New Shamsitu, Dr. Rooena, a doctor in the same camp, and Wajia, a member of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), a women’s campaign group for equal rights, education and healthcare.

Under Taliban rule, as the film documents, strict laws such as the banning of women’s activity outside of the home without accompaniment by a ‘mahram’ (close male relative/husband) were enforced with severe punishments in an effort to create their interpretation of an Islamic state. Yet the intent behind Nanji’s lack of censorship of Taliban brutality (including clips of public executions) is not to shock for the sake of being shocking: this is the harsh reality of Afghan life within a country branded the hardest place to be a woman.

And yet the documentary serves a purpose in exposing a context unknown and unimaginable for many: a not-too-distant history of a pre-conflict, pre-Taliban, progressive Afghanistan. Clips of women walking through the lush gardens of Kabul in swinging sixties miniskirts and engaging in lecture debates possess an all-too bitter contrast in comparison to shots from under burqas of women beaten in the street for wearing noisy shoes. The Wahabi Islam of the Taliban on top of years of conflict appears to have completely erased such a liberal identity from Afghani history.

Whilst women’s rights in Afghanistan under the relative protection of UN forces has offered a number of the 80% of Afghan illiterate women aged 15-24 an opportunity to attend school, the artificial installation of such rights by the international community without an accompanying culture shift has caused many activists and an even greater number of Afghani women to fear for their lives and rights after UN withdrawal. Suspicions that Karzai’s fragile government, still permeated by civil war barons, will compromise these rights during the peace process with the Taliban are ever increasing, as quiet reversals in policy occur more and more frequently: cuts in the number of council seats for female representation, and a criminal code redraft protecting perpetrators of domestic violence. This stands without mentioning the increased evidence of a culture of violence on an individual level – a culture including acid attacks, beatings and killings as well as suicide attempts and self-immolation inflicted by the women themselves. And the recent decision to reinstate the punishment of public stoning for adulterers in the redraft of the penal code (article 21 & 23) only provides a sad confirmation of these suspicions: women are not seen as worthy of protection even within the eyes of the government. The spectre of brutal Taliban human rights abuses looms over the Afghan people like a waking nightmare.


Yet the picture ‘A View From a Grain of Sand’ presents is not an altogether hopeless one. Nanji’s direction is closely tied to the efforts of RAWA, within the country itself as well as in the dusty refugee camps now permanent settlements for many Afghanis. Nanji’s protagonists present a powerful image of the grit of Afghan women as they jeopardise their safety in fighting women’s rights abuses.

All of this is, of course, does not mute the degree of tragedy in the failure of the UN exit strategy. However, a less than successful international military intervention and an anti-female sentiment entrenched by decades of conflict does not give the global community a license to ignore the struggles of the Afghan women. Helping end the struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan does not have to involve a grand imposition of Western democratic values; the Amnesty International campaign focuses instead on supporting and protecting those involved in campaigning for women’s rights, and most importantly of late aiding women to get engaged in the peace process. Giving these cries a voice, outside as well as inside Afghanistan, must become a fundamental role for the international community to play in ending the brutal abuses of women’s rights – a vision inherent to ‘A View From a Grain of Sand’, and a role crucial to the Amnesty campaign.

Bronte Phillips

originally published by TCS

Michaelmas Cage Event – Sign Up Now !

This Michaelmas, from 14th – 16th October, the Amnesty Cage will emerge once again from hibernation to draw the startled attention of passers-by, perching on King’s Lawn in all its ancient and somewhat shabby glory. We need you to make it work! Cambridge Amnesty members have been spending their days and nights manning the petition stall and huddling behind bars for at least fourteen years. From one angle, that’s something to be proud of. From another, it illustrates just how longmany injustices still drag out.

One such injustice we continue to highlight this year is the detention of Shaker Aamer, a British resident and father of four who has been held since 2002 without charge in Guantánamo Bay. Despite President Barack Obama’s executive order of 2009, which committed the US Administration to closing Guantánamo within a year, 171 men are still held there. Shaker Aamer is the last British resident left in Guantánamo Bay, and despite calls for his return by the UK government, he remains in indefinite detention. This constitutes a serious human rights violation – one which by February 2012 will have continued for ten years.

Shaker Aamer must either be given a fair trial in US federal courts or released back to his wife and children in the UK. To make sure that he is not forgotten, and to keep the pressure firmly on the US government to end this travesty of justice, we will be getting petitions signed by the public and letting as many people as possible know what’s going on. Stand up for human rights, meet new people – and enjoy free biscuits!

To date, only one Guantánamo detainee has been transferred to the US mainland for trial in a civilian court; trials by military commission do not meet international standards of fairness.

Aamer is originally from Saudi Arabia but is married to a British citizen and has four British children. He had permission to live indefinitely in the UK when he was originally detained in Afghanistan by Afghan forces in the autumn of 2001.

Through his lawyer, Aamer has alleged that he was badly beaten and subjected to death threats in front of an MI5 officer as well as US intelligence officials while being secretly held and interrogated in Afghanistan in early 2002. In February 2002 Aamer was transferred to Guantánamo Bay. There are allegations that he was again tortured there, and he has spent long periods of his incarceration at the camp in solitary confinement.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen sums it up: “Shaker has already had nine years of his life stolen from him, he says he’s been horribly tortured and he’s still sitting in a cell without any form of due process.”

Sign up here! Note: the purpose of the form is not to collect people’s availabilities, but rather to let you decide which slot you intend to attend. Signing up to more than one slot is possible and encouraged, but you are invited to attend all those to which you sign up for if possible !

Amnesty Week 1

Hello everyone ! We’ve had a lot of Freshers sign up to our mailing list this year. Here’s a recap of what’s happening this week:

  • Our first Action team meeting will take place on Sunday at 5, at the Union conference room.
  • On Monday we will have a squash at7 at the Maypole Pub (by the ADC Theatre), so come one, come all, to meet the wonderful people that make up Action Team and our Board.
Have fun ! Stay keen !

Site Reboot & Troy Davis Emergency

Onwards and upwards ! CUAI is back online and better than ever.

We would like to bring to attention the case of Troy Davis, whose execution has been set to the 21st September by the U.S. state of Georgia. The facts in his case are rife with witness coercion and lack of evidence, yet despite this and various campaigns by Human Rights associations, his death has been scheduled after 20 years in Death Row.

All hope is not lost, however, since the Court has allowed a clemency hearing on the 19th September, to decide if the execution will be carried  out at all. The time to act is now, and here’s what you can do to help : by going on the Amnesty International website, read up on the facts in his case, and send a message to the clemency board to help convince them that this execution should not take place !

Cage – sign up now available

Yes indeed the time has come to start signing up to be in this terms cage. We have loads and loads of slots both in the cage and on the stall that need to be taken by your lovely-selves, so sign up now. This term we’re campaigning once again for the release of Burmese political prisoners in particular the 88 generation Students group as well as Aung San Suu Kyi. Come to the action team this Sunday to find out why this cause is so incredibly important.

The cage takes place Fri 26th-Sun 28th of Feb. The link to sign up is this:

Shell hits back at CU Amnesty protest

Shell have hit back after our protest outside the Senate House on Thursday 4th February – Shell Hell day – which asked Shell to stop gas flaring and to clean up their operations in the Niger Delta.  13 colleges at Cambridge university have investments in Shell and Shell sponsors the Engineering department. It’s for this reason that Cambridge is particularly responsible to request that Shell is doing everything it can to protect the communities who live in the regions they operate in.

Watch a video of the protest here by Cambridge News.

Read all about the Shell Hell campaign here

Read Shell’s come back comment here.

Read CU Amnesty’s further comments, in response to Shell here.

Thanks to everyone who supported Shell Hell day and signed our petitions – its good to know Shell’s listening.

Varsity Letter Writing

Last year Oxford pipped us to the post in our challenge to write the most letters in a week- let’s not let that happen again!

Main event:
What: Letter writing and pancakes!
When? 1-4pm Tuesday 16th Feb
Where? Saunders Room, Newnham College
Who? Everyone Welcome

Plus, look our for events in your own college! ”

Let’s get writing!!!

Reproductive Rights

Since the start of 2009 Nicaragua has enforced a total ban on abortions in the country. This applies to victims of rape, incest and women who’s lives are endagered by the pregnancy. A pregnant woman suffering from cancer, with children waiting at home, would be given an effective death sentence by being forced to come off her medication which may harm the fetus. The effects of this new law are already being felt. An amnesty report found that in the first five months of 2009, 33 girls and women died from pregnancy and birth-related complications, compared to 20 in the same period of 2008.
The Film Night:

St. John’s cinema, Thursday Jan. 21st, 9pm

We are working with John’s films soc to show critically acclaimed film, Vera Drake, which tells the story of a working class woman in London in 1950, who performs illegal abortions for women in need. Come along to support Amnesty and find out more about this campaign.

The Rally:

Meeting at Parkers Piece and marching to Guildhall – Saturday 23rd Jan – 1-2pm

We will be calling on the Nicaraguan government to repeal this appaling law, and showing our support for the rights of women world wide to maternal health and reproductive rights!! Join us.