Activist tells of Afghan women’s struggle

Mary Akrami speaks at launch of the annual report of Irish NGO Frontline Defenders

Mary Akrami, director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Centre, in Kabul and board member of the Afghan Women’s Network, was keynote speaker at the launch of Frontline Defenders 2015 Annual Report in Dublin. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill /THE IRISH TIMES

Mary Akrami, director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Centre, in Kabul and board member of the Afghan Women’s Network, was keynote speaker at the launch of Frontline Defenders 2015 Annual Report in Dublin. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill /THE IRISH TIMES

 

Peter Murtagh

A chilling picture of the challenges facing women’s rights activists in Afghanistan has been given by a campaigner from there who is visiting Ireland.

Mary Akrami, who runs a network in Kabul working for women’s rights across the country, described how even erstwhile allies there could not be depended upon for support due to political and cultural pressures.

On a visit last month to Bamyan, which she said was a normally peaceful part of the country, she found herself threatened with arrest and extreme violence including death. But she was unable to get support from women campaigners there who were allegedly on her own side.

In the face of numerous threats, a local women’s rights activist sided not with her but with local power brokers who controlled everything, including the police. This was because local sectional interests and family power structures wielded greater influence, and hence power, than those seek change and adherence to human rights.

“They were not Taliban but they had power,” she said of the controlling local interests. “When you face threats in such a place, there is mo one to turn to for support.”

Ms Akrami has a network of over 2,500 human rights defenders in Afghanistan and works in the interests of ill-treated and marginalised women, running safe houses for them and their children.

“We need support, strong soludarity, especially among women,” she said.

“We don’t want to go back [to the old ways] and that’s why we need international support, including from the Irish government. The people of Afghanistan are keen to go further and that’s why we are there.”

Ms Akrami was speaking in Dublin at the launch of the 2015 Annual Report of Frontline Defenders, an Irish non-governmental organisation that seeks to support, and campaign for, human rights activists across the globe.

The report collated another bleak mass of data on human rights violations in the first 10 months of 2014. Over 130 human rights defenders were murdered, or died in detention, killed by reressive regimes or politically-connected vested interests protecting their wealth. Forty six of those deaths occurred in one country, Colombia.

Commenting on recent events in Paris, Frontline’s executive director Mary Lawlor, welcomed the strong international coming together to condemn the terrorist attacks. “We would like to see the same robustness in defence of human rights defenders,” she said.

The report’s global survey asserts arbitary arrest an detention to be a common problem faced by human rights defenders in Africa. There was increased abuse of surveillance of activists on the Americas as well as targetting of environmental and land rights defenders.

In Europe and central Asia, gay rights activists faced a “marked increase” in attacks and in the use against them of economic weapons, said Andrea Rocca, Frontline’s senior protection co-ordinator.

“The space for human rights activism in the Middle East and North Africa has been shrinking,” says the report.

*The repirt, Human Rights Defenders in the Balance is available via frontlinedefenders.org