In Afghanistan under Taliban rule, women were forbidden to work or go to school,
they could not leave their homes without a male chaperone, and they could not be
seen without a head-to-toe covering called the burqa. A woman's
slightest infractions were met with brutal public beatings. That is why it is
both appropriate and incredible that the sole effective civil resistance to
Taliban rule was made by women. Veiled Courage reveals the remarkable
bravery and spirit of the women of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of
Afghanistan (RAWA), whose daring clandestine activities defied the forces of the
Taliban and earned the world's fierce admiration.
The complete subordination of women was one of the first acts of the Taliban. But the women of RAWA refused to cower. They used the burqa to their advantage, secretly photographing Taliban beatings and executions, and posting the gruesome pictures on their multi-language website, rawa.org, which is read around the world. They organized to educate girls and women in underground schools and to run small businesses in the border towns of Pakistan that allowed widows to support their families.
If caught, any RAWA activist would have faced sure death. Yet they persisted.
With the overthrow of the Taliban now a reality, RAWA faces a new challenge: defeating the powers of Islamic fundamentalism of which the Taliban are only one face and helping build a society in which women are guaranteed full human rights.
Cheryl Benard, an American sociologist and an important advisor to RAWA, uses her inside access to write the first behind-the-scenes story of RAWA and its remarkably brave women. Veiled Courage will change the way people think of Afghanistan, casting its people and its future in a new, more hopeful light.
Chapter One: Men, Boys and Dust
Men, boys and dust. That was my initial impression when I first went to the
Afghan border area in 1982, an expert in project design sent to assess the
efficiency with which aid was being delivered to Afghan refugees by the
international community. I had lived, traveled and studied in other countries,
including Islamic ones, but even there, my contacts had been limited to people
like me--modern, educated, urban people. This was not the group that populated
the border area or lived in the refugee camps.
Reviewing the aid projects consisted of two activities. I toured the camps, visited the health clinics and distribution centers and surveyed the other services Western agencies were providing. I took part in the meetings where these agencies discussed how things were going and decided what to do next.
The camps were in desolate areas half an hour to an hour from the nearest Pakistani town. You took an unpaved road into what seemed like ...
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