Monday, January 22, 2007

Know Fear

Irene Khan -- 2006 Sydney Peace Prize (mp3)

It’s December 2001. I am in a hot and dusty Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan. The Taleban have been defeated and there is jubilation among the Afghan refugees. Refugee women are climbing into the buses that will drive them home...These women understand only too well the real horror of war but they also know that peace is much more than merely an end to fighting. Sitting on the bus next to Zubaida I ask, “What will you do when you return home?” She does not hesitate for a second. Clutching her baby close, she looks me straight in the eye, and says “I want to go to school. Some day I will be a scientist.”

What an amazing answer! Here is this woman discreetly covered from head to foot in a blue burqah, but there is nothing hidden about her message. She is telling me that peace is not a matter of military victories; it is about equality, justice and freedom for women as well as men. It is about creating the possibility for every human being to reach their full potential. And it is about hope.

Fast forward two years to July 2003. I am in Kabul now but I can’t find Zubaida or, for that matter, any woman studying science. Instead I find a fortress town guarded by American troops: a country caught in the grip of warlords and drug barons, torn by insecurity, afflicted by extreme poverty. I sense the fear in women activists as they tell me of the abduction of young girls from homes and schools, and of rampant sexual violence.

Later I am taken to a prison in Kabul, crowded with women and girls accused of adultery, or of wanting to marry the man of their choice or of running away from brutal husbands.

I am telling you this story about Afghanistan because what I saw in Kabul is, in a microcosm, what I see happening across our world today; a world in which peace is being redefined, in the interests of the powerful and the privileged, at the expense of the poor and the marginalized.

A new agenda is in the making in which the rules are being rewritten for the greater security of a few, while the actual sources of insecurity that affect the lives of many more are ignored. The “war on terror” dominates while sexual terror is ignored, even though it affects millions of women and girls around the world, in bedrooms, on battlefields, and in workplaces.
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