RAWA is a feminist movement consisting of Afghan women who have fought for gender equality in Afghanistan since 1977 – and also for democracy, peace and human rights more generally.
RAWA seeks to document a range of human rights violations in Afghanistan through their often harrowing reports, photos and movies.
Their renown spread in 1999, as they published footage of the Taliban executing a mother of seven at the former football stadium of Kabul. Allegedly, the woman had killed her husband two years earlier. The footage went around the world as part of the BBC documentary Behind the Veil:
RAWA is also a humanitarian organisation, running orphanages, schools and health projects in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and providing emergency assistance after natural disasters.
New times, new enemies
Much has changed in Afghanistan since RAWA was founded in 1977, but the movement has never ceased to be in opposition to the powers that be. At first, they fought the Russian invasion in the 1980s, then they opposed the mujahideen and the Taliban in the 1990s, and since 2001 they have protested vehemently against the presence of international security forces in the country.
The latter may seem puzzling: when the coalition of Western countries toppled the Taliban in 2001, they explicitly promised to help build a democratic Afghan state observing gender equality – precisely what RAWA wishes for. But there are two overarching reasons why the feminists do not make much of these promises:
First, the international coalition has placed political leadership in the hands of Afghan warlords, who certainly fought the Taliban in the 1990s, but whose own attitudes towards women and human rights are equally poor. RAWA and many others still remember how the armies of those warlords rampaged through the country in the early 1990s, raping young women who subsequently had to commit suicide in order to save the family honour.
RAWA thus accuses the US and their allies of having ‘replaced one fundamentalist regime with another’. In addition, RAWA is also essentially nationalist: echoing their former protests against the Soviet control of Afghanistan, they now claim that ‘women will never be able to get even their most basic rights fulfilled in a country that is not independent, and where the people are trapped in the chains of colonialism and despotism’.