"I believe women are one of the main reasons for continuation of humanity"
She was the first Minister of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan after the Taliban lost power in 2002. Ever since, for many women in Afghanistan almost everything changed, as Sima Samar recapitulates in this interview.
Görlach: You were the minister for women’s affairs in Afghanistan. Many might be compelled to think that there are not many rights for women in this country altogether. What do you answer them, how is the state of affairs for women in the country these days?
Samar: Yes, I was the first minister of women’s affairs in 2002 after the Taliban regime was removed from power. The country was destroyed and no basic social services existed and women were practically in prison. Afghanistan was maybe the biggest prison for the women in the world. But since then a lot has been achieved, for the first time in our history the equality of men and women was guaranteed in the Constitution. And it was the first time ever that domestic violence was criminalized.
Görlach: Women’s access to education and health care improved?
Samar: There were no women at University now it is almost 28-30 percent of the students are girls. Women in media, we never had camerawomen, we have so many now. Women lead business and head of the company. Today 3000 women are in the police force, more than 2000 are in the army. But this is not the reality in every corner of the country. Women do not have access to school in the areas under control of Taliban. Their violence against women is high, with Covid-19 the violence has also increased, so have child marriages, and forced marriage, due to poverty.
Görlach: When you look back on your work which hurdles and obstacles you had to overcome?
Samar: So many obstacles were there, first the lack of recognition of women’s ability and secondly the lack of resources, for promotion and protection of human rights of women. Thirdly, the very conservative mentality and using religion to reduce the freedom and rights of women was so common, in fact it is still a problem. Fourthly, the lack of education and lack of awareness about their rights. It improved a lot in the past 19 years after the end of the Taliban regime. And there are other factors such as poverty amongst women and economical dependency of women from the male member of the family. The lack of strong political will for promotion and protection of human rights by the leadership which was using women for symbolism rather than really give them the political support and resources.
Görlach: You have spoken out against the burqa and public seclusion of women. How are such statements being perceived in today’s Afghanistan?
Samar: The environment as I said has improved a lot, but we still have a lot of women who are forced to wear the burka. I do not mind if they chose to wear it. But when it is forced then it is violation of human rights. With burka, you are faceless. We need to have face and to be recognized.
Görlach: What role do women play for the social fabric of Afghanistan?
Samar: I believe women are one of the main reasons for continuation of humanity, they always play very constructive nonviolent role in the family and society if they are given the chance to do so. Still with very conservative society women in the family are the ones, who try to keep the family together. Give an example, when a child does something wrong, usually runs to the mother to save him or her from the aggression of the Father. It’s so obvious that the mothers are taking even the responsibility for some things done by their child.
Görlach: Do you see modernisation underway in the various branches and traditions of Islam that might lead eventually to a wider recognition of women?
Samar: When a religion, any religion, is used as a political tool than that is not good because religions do not give you the right to oppress and violate the rights of any human being. According to Islam every human being is born equal and with dignity. Any violent act is against this human dignity. I believe that it is are personal matter to practice religion which obliges you to not harm others.