As President Obama sends signals that he's open to talking to the Taliban, one Afghan woman is in Washington this week warning that the hard won gains in women's rights in that nation are threatened by the reemergence of the country's former rulers. "It makes me scared and everybody has the fear that one day (the Taliban) will be back again," says Afghan women's rights advocate Suraya Pakzad.
Pakzad, a mother of six, founded a secret organization in 1988 to teach Afghan women how to read, and provide shelter from domestic violence. When the Taliban were driven from power her "Voice of Women Organization" emerged from secrecy to expand efforts to give women rights in the home, schools, the workplace and in the legislature. By one measure she has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams: the government says 2-million girls now attend school in Afghanistan.
But even now, seven years after the end of Taliban rule, full women's rights remain a goal in that country. Women are targets of domestic violence. Girls have been attacked for attending school. During her confirmation hearings Secretary of State Clinton condemned one brutal attack which used acid to deface school girls. "This is not culture," Clinton said. "This is not custom. This is criminal."
Pakzad says her life has been threatened and that she still needs security to protect her from those opposed to her efforts. She told us in an exclusive interview that she's so frightened for her safety that "I change routes to go to the office...I cannot share my schedule even with my friends, with my staff and even sometimes I'm not secure using the phone."
This week Pakzad carries her concerns to members of Congress and the Obama Administration. But she also brings hope that eventually Afghan women will secure rights that American women have achieved. "My hope for my daughters, for the next generation...is that they should enjoy their freedom, hope they have a country free of inequality, free of violence against women, and hopefully they will get that opportunity."