Fourth Woman PeaceMaker to Hold 'Conversation' in IPJ
Editor in Chief
Palwasha Kakar has a soft voice, but “big power.” Kakar is from eastern Afghanistan, and her work for women’s rights has taken her all over the country and even into exile in Pakistan. She is currently in residency at the Institute for Peace and Justice, where she says her mind is calm and she has been encouraged and inspired by the other women who work at the IPJ.
Her family tree boasts poets, soldiers, patriots, scholars and even the previous king of Afghanistan, but Palwasha washes her clothes by hand. “I love my country,” she said. “If it is poor, it is rich as my country.” It is difficult to imagine this woman with a silk scarf draped about her shoulders doing housework in a country that has suffered severe destruction.
Palwasha is the mother of four boys and the wife of a man her family decided she should marry. “My marriage belongs to my family. They took the decision because it is our culture,” she explained. It is the same culture she faults for the deep-rooted patriarchy that pervades Afghanistan. “The boy, in his family, has big power. The girls clean their brothers’ shoes, their brothers’ clothes … This is family … It starts in the family, the men thinking ‘I have big power.’”
For Palwasha, big power rests within each woman, but the Soviet regime and subsequent Mujahideen, then Taliban control has brought oppression to the Afghan people. Women's rights, in particular, have been jeopardized to varying degrees by each of these regimes.
Without an education women do not have the tools for empowerment. Seeing the desperate need women in her country had for education, school, books and freedom, Palwasha became a teacher in Kabul. After the Mujahideen took Kabul from Soviet control, Palwasha became a principal at a girls’ school in the Nangarhar province and joined UNICEF to work as a trainer and social mobilizer. She has seen fighting take control of her country and has remained on the opposite side, bringing school supplies to more than 20 "home schools" she has helped establish.
“Why?” Palwasha implores every time she explains another struggle that women in Afghanistan face. “In our society it is so difficult to say, ‘Why?’ It is so difficult. Why are women and men not equal? Why are the ones in charge given guns instead of books? Why are so many other countries interested in the big power in Afghanistan?”
Palwasha asked this last rhetorical question after explaining how deep foreign interest in Afghanistan runs. During the 1980s the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and took control. The US, specifically the Carter and Reagan administrations, along with Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia financially backed a group of revolutionaries called the Mujahideen.
The time during which the communist regime controlled Afghanistan is the time Palwasha remembers her country changing. She remembers a time when women could walk on the streets alone at night without a problem, and now the resurgence of the Taliban has, in some places, reversed the progression of women's freedom.
The larger Mujahideen groups began to fight amongst themselves until the Taliban, financially supported by Pakistan and lead by a wealthy Saudi, Osama bin Laden, overthrew the post-Soviet government in 1996. Now, five years after Sept. 11, 2001, Hamid Karzai, who speaks English and is highly supported by the West, is the interim Prime Minister of Afghanistan.
Palwasha, currently the Program Manager in the Eastern Regional Office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in Jalalabad, laments the fact that people, who have committed war crimes, are being given big power in the government. She wants peace and justice to come to Afghanistan and is willing to risk her life to see that happen.
She will be participating in a “Conversation” on Thurs., Oct. 12 in the IPJ Theatre to discuss “mobilizing women and defending human rights under and after the Taliban.”
The Vista, October 12, 2006Original Article