Afghan Women Fighting Against Oppression

A woman who calls herself Tahmeena Faryal has been improving the lives of women in Afghanistan, while documenting their suffering at the hands of the Taliban regime.

For her efforts, she and the other members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), are the subject of a fatwah, or religious edict, issued by the Taliban calling for their death.

Faryal told Good Morning America that she knows the work is risky, but believes the plight of women in Afghanistan must not go undocumented. To protect her identity, she uses a fictional name and wears a veil during interviews.

Faryal recounted the Taliban's chilling execution in 1999 of a woman accused of killing her abusive husband. The woman, who had no trial, had been forgiven by her husband's family because she had seven children. But the Taliban ordered her killed because she was "too guilty to be forgiven," Faryal said.

In the execution, which a RAWA member secretly filmed, the woman was taken from a vehicle and ordered to kneel. Then a Taliban fighter shot her in the back of the head with an automatic rifle.

"When RAWA members found the execution of women in the public sports stadium," Faryal said, "they knew that if they were arrested with that tape, they could have been executed right in that stadium."

The group's Web site, RAWA.org, also documents other Taliban executions, including the stoning to death of a woman in a sports stadium in May 2000.

Woman of the Year

Faryal, who was honored Monday night at Glamour magazine's Woman of the Year awards, works for RAWA out of Pakistan. She has been in the United States campaigning on behalf of Afghan women.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, RAWA has been trying to focus the world's attention on the plight of Afghan women.

RAWA was founded in Kabul, the Afghan capital, in 1977, two decades before the Taliban came to power. The founder, Afghan feminist poet Meena Keshwar Kamal, was assassinated in 1987.

The group, which numbers about 2,000 and is now based in Pakistan, started out fighting for a democratic government in Afghanistan. After the Soviets invaded in 1979, and on through the country's subsequent civil war, the group continued to provide education and health care to Afghan women and children.

Now, the group is battling against the Taliban, the extremist Islamic sect that has virtually wiped out Afghan women's freedoms since taking over in 1996.

Before the Taliban took over, women had the right to education, were represented in government and worked in offices. Forty percent of the country's doctors were women.

Living Under the Taliban

Under the Taliban regime, women are not allowed to hold jobs or receive an education. They can only appear in public if they are accompanied by male relatives and clothed in burqas, full-length coverings that drape the entire body, including the face. Under the Taliban regime, women cannot laugh, talk out loud in public, or make noise when they walk. If they wear makeup or show their ankles, they are subject to being whipped.

RAWA runs secret schools for girls and helps set up underground health clinics, staffed by female doctors and nurses, whom the Taliban have forbidden from practicing in Afghan hospitals.

Members also wear hidden cameras under their burqas to document the Taliban beating and killing women. Video of the abuses and information on the group is available on their Web site.

All of the women's activities in Taliban-occupied territory are done at high risk. Many RAWA members have been arrested, and the punishment decreed by the Taliban for membership is stoning to death. As Faryal carries on her work for the women, she is always heavily guarded and always in hiding.

At the Glamour awards ceremony, Faryal read a poem written by RAWA founder Kamal. Translated from Persian, it reads: "I am the woman who has awoken. I have found my paths and will never return."

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