A fervent wish for peace
‘so I can see what happiness tastes like’
One dreams about the “taste” of happiness, another about having one more chance to sit and talk with her slain husband. One hopes her children outlive her and finish their education.
Above all else, though, they wish for “security.”
For the 10 women who participated in The Globe and Mail’s “Behind the Veil” project, peace and stability in Afghanistan top their lists of hopes and dreams for the future.
“My dream for my personal life is that our country becomes peaceful; with it, all my dreams will come true,” said Shukria, a 32-year-old mother of six who has been once widowed and married twice.
“In my entire life, I haven’t even spent one year in happiness. … Now, my dreams and hopes are that my children grow up so I can see happiness in the future, so I can see what happiness tastes like,” she said.
Then, a sombre addendum: “But I know that if our situation remains the same, I don’t really have much hope left even for that.”
Although the education levels of the women interviewed by The Globe varied significantly, they are all aware these are precarious times for their city, which is teetering on the brink – of betterment or disaster, no one can be sure.
“No one can predict anything,” said Suhaila, the 39-year-old economics head at the provincial Department of Women’s Affairs. “It all depends on security.”
Not coincidentally, her “personal dream” is for security in her country. After that? “I wish that women of Afghanistan have equal rights, that they have a good life and that they don’t have any financial problems,” she said.
Rangina Hamidi, the prominent Kandahar Afghan-American women’s activist, also put security at the top of her list. “Once we know we can live and not be killed merely for being, you know, walkers on the street or workers at an office, then it is possible to bring development, to bring literacy, but it’s a long-term commitment. … It cannot be done overnight.
“You know … it took women over 30 years to get the right to vote in America. Just the right to vote in America,” she said. “Why do we expect a society that is illiterate, that is tribal, that is patriarchal, that is so isolated from the rest of the world, has been through 30 years of war … in a span of five years or three years … to meet expectations of the level of democracy and freedom that we have in America and Canada?”
If she sees even a slight shift during her lifetime, Homaira, a 40-year-old mother of five, will be fulfilled.
“My wish for the future is that my children grow up, go to school, study, that they become educated,” she said. “We didn’t get a chance to, but at least they should become educated … have a good life, …” she said.
There is one hope she has for herself – related to her husband, who was killed by militants because he worked in government – that will be impossible to realize.
“The only thing I would wish for would be that my husband would be alive now, that I could sit and talk to him,” she said.
Shafiqa, a mother of four who guesses she is 34 or 35 years old, wishes for simple things.
“I have many dreams. No human being is without dreams. I have many in my heart,” she confessed. “During the revolution, we didn’t have much happiness. Bombs fell on us. We lived through difficult times then … similar to now …” she said.
“I wish that my life improves, that my husband’s wage increases and that we own a house. That my children go to school. These are my wishes from God,” she said.
Many of the women The Globe interviewed talked about hoping for the retreat of the international armies that have occupied their country for nearly a decade.
“We don’t want people from another country to be here. We have to develop our homeland on our own,” said Shahzia, the 14-year-old student. Her impression of the International Security Assistance Force and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Canada is a part, is that “they kill many innocent civilians.”
Hers is a common impression.
“They come, pass by with their cars … suicide attacks happen and our children, our youth and our elders, they all die,” Shafiqa said.
“The fact that their troops are here is not pleasant to anyone,” said Suhaila, the women’s ministry employee. “Because wherever they are stationed, it is certain that an incident will happen there. And in that incident, only the innocent civilians die,” she said. “If they want to help us, they can do it from their countries.”
Ms. Hamidi doesn’t go that far, but she is pleading for coherence among international forces if they want to avoid further damaging the country.
“We have 42 different countries wanting to implement 42 different plans. … The international community, America as its leader, needs to decide what they want to do with this country,” she said, adding that “whatever has to happen for Afghanistan has to happen in the terms of Afghanistan.”
If the nations invested in its future don’t realize that, Ms. Hamidi worries, the results will be disastrous.
“I regret that if we continue at the current level and the current pace … we’re going to have a result worse than when the Communists left,” she said.