Kabul resident Sultana Parvanta talks with host Marco Werman about the changing situation of women in Afghanistan 10 years after the US invasion.
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Marco Werman: Sultana Parvanta lives in Kabul, Afghanistan. She grew up there, but she left during the harshest years of Taliban rule. Sultana Parvanta returned after the fall of the Taliban to work on women’s rights and other issues. We’ve had her on the program many times over the years. Today, as we approach the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan we asked her to look back at that moment almost a decade ago when Afghans around the world starting returning to their homeland.
Sultana Parvanta: Most people from Afghanistan who were literate or who were as professionals, they all had left Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban they came back, so they had seen. They had seen educated women, they had seen western ways of living, modern ways of thinking, modern ways of being, and their children — oh, versed in the latest technologies — they all came back by the millions. And I personally thought it was an amazing experiment in the world history, in the new century to have all the world come together and assist a nation that was devastated by war. And so there was a lot of hope.
Werman: At the start the west focused on the horrific plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban and it seemed the new government, the Karzai government wanted to advance the cause of women, and they did at first; but in recent years President Karzai has come under harsh criticism for making concessions to the Taliban at the expense of women. What would you say is the status of women today in Afghanistan?
Parvanta: We must count our blessings for as far we’ve gotten, and the girls have gone to school, the Afghan women have shown tremendous potential. However, there have been some laws passed by this government that have totally undermined the idea of empowering women. Having a seat for the women in the gatherings, we sometimes just get the seat, but not listen to their ideas or not implement their ideas. They are sort of there but not heard.
Werman: Right, I’m wondering if you can share an example or two of women you know who’ve suffered from that experience of being seen and not heard?
Parvanta: Afghan men in general are extremely kind and very generous in their kindness, and also very charismatic. But when it comes to actually a decision, a policy, a suggestion, you’re not taken very seriously. It’s like glossed over. I make a suggestion, the women, and I think if a man colleague makes the same suggestion, that’s considered more than mine.
Werman: Do you have an example of how you experienced that recently?
Parvanta: Well, I’m experiencing it all the time in every meeting almost. I’ve experienced it 7-1/2 years working in the government. So, I think Afghan women suffer tremendously in many, many ways. I was thinking of a woman I know. She’s from Khost[? 2:59] you know, she was widowed in the war where she lost her husband and she was left with 3 daughters and 1 son. And that she was so hopeful to raise her son to get a job in Khost. And they couldn’t get a job for him and he joined the military, the police. And wanted to get the training, get the job and support his family and maybe even have some money to get married and all that. And just before his first paycheck he was killed on a police post attack by Taliban.
Werman: Oh, do you think the United States understands the Taliban? Do you think the US overestimates the threat of the Taliban or underestimates it?
Parvanta: Underestimates it.
Parvanta: Totally, if people lived in this society and they saw the pain and the cause of suffering. You know, the attacks in the past few weeks here alone have been completely unnerving and is like they are winning actually. You know, that’s the sad thing and it’s very hard for everybody else, including me, to admit that. And I think as a human you ultimately do breakdown sometimes in sorry, but I still in the midst of that, I see potential. I know the city is bustling and growing. People are moving around. You know, the society is afraid and a little bit panicked, and some mistrust is there and fear of 2014 when the NATO forces leave. But meanwhile people are strongly connecting and bonding with each other. You know, that’s maybe the most positive thing.
Werman: Afghan resident, Sultana Parvanta, spoke to us from Kabul.
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