On Saturday, March 19, about 60 people gathered at the artist-run gallery, Gallery Connexion in Fredericton, to support the work of the Revolutionary Association of the Women in Afghanistan (RAWA).
RAWA began in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1977 under the leadership of Meena, a health worker and activist who was assassinated with two of her family members. Today, RAWA continues to thrive as a political and social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy, and women’s rights. They also run schools, orphanages and health clinics. They support prostitutes and refugees, and provide literacy courses for women. However, their work is constantly under pressure due to death threats and lack of funds. Many RAWA leaders have had to go into hiding in fear for their lives.
The Fredericton Peace Coalition stands with RAWA against the foreign occupation of Afghanistan. For the last five years, the Fredericton Peace Coalition and other groups have joined efforts to hold variety show benefits in the spring. This year, the event is supported by the NB RebELLEs, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ Atlantic Women’s Committee, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, CUSO-VSO, the UNB Sexuality Centre, the UNB Political Science Students’ Association and the UNB Students’ Union.
This year’s variety show benefit was both entertaining and educational. The crowd was entertained by the Raging Grannies, the NB RebELLEs gumbooters and Saint John musician Debbie Adshade. Sociologist Sylvia Hale spoke of how feminism has been co-opted to win women’s support for war. The NB Advisory Council on the Status of Women’s Beth Lyons said a few words on the struggle for reproductive rights and
gender-based planning in the province. Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre’s volunteers Olivia Fogel, Kayla Follett and Kimberley Douglass spoke of the work of the centre to stop sexual violence. Fogel moved the crowd by reading a poem by Nadia Anjuman, an Afghan poet, who was beaten to death in 2005. Many believed Nadia was killed by her husband for her writings.
The NB RebELLEs organized a silent auction stocked with donations from local supporters, artists and downtown businesses. Organizers are still counting the donations but the donation is expected to exceed $2,000. The Fredericton Peace Coalition is accepting donations until the end of April. Donations can be sent to the Fredericton Peace Coalition by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org
It was noted at the event that the U.S. has denied a travel visa to Malalai Joya, an Afghan women’s rights activist and former member of Afghanistan’s parliament. Joya was set to tour the U.S. to promote an updated edition of her book, A Woman Among Warlords.
Members of the Fredericton Peace Coalition met Joya in Halifax in November 2009. She told coalition members of her time at a RAWA school and recalled the impact that RAWA’s martyred founder, Meena, had on her life. Meena was assassinated at the age of 30 for her advocacy against Afghanistan’s fundamentalist forces.
Malalai Joya cannot tell you her real name, or the name of her husband, because it would place her family and her husband in danger. Joya was the youngest member of the Afghan Parliament until she was banished from her seat and threatened with death for calling out the warlords and criminals in the puppet Hamid Karzai government. She has survived several assassination attempts. She sleeps in a different place every night.
In Afghanistan today, it is still not safe for a woman to appear in public uncovered, or to walk on the street without a male relative. Girls are still sold into marriage. Rape goes unpunished every day. Women are burning themselves alive to end their misery. Life expectancy in Afghanistan is less than 45 years. Seventy percent of Afghans survive on less than two dollars per day. It is estimated that more than half of Afghan men and 80 percent of women are illiterate.
Joya says, “Today the soil of Afghanistan is full of land mines, bullets, and bombs — when what we really need is an invasion of hospitals, clinics, and schools for boys and girls.” She says “no nation can donate liberation to another nation. These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves. They can only grow and flourish when they are planted by the people in their own soil and watered by their own blood and tears.”
Tracy Glynn is a member of the NB Media Co-op board.