The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) rose to international prominence after the attacks on the
Within the context of on-going brutal war, that such a political organization of women exists and thrives, is reason enough to study RAWA. Additionally, their political vision is basic and non-sectarian, espousing universal human rights, womenâ€™s rights, economic democracy, and a progressive education policy. They create and distribute their own media and have successfully harnessed new technologies to further their goals. RAWA is an extraordinarily resilient organization that uses a horizontal structure with an emphasis on the collective over the individual, and employs practical and democratic decision-making and internal conflict-resolution. In fact, RAWA has been operating in a manner that progressive political organizations in the West could only dream of. What can Western social movements learn from RAWA?
To answer this question I draw heavily from my own personal experience of working in solidarity with RAWA for the past 6 years, supplemented with information from the book, â€œWith All Our Strengthâ€ by Anne Brodsky, (New York: Routledge, 2003).
Rather that destroying the organization, Meenaâ€™s assassination drove RAWA underground and actually provoked them to broaden their goals even more. Since then, they see imperialism and religious fundamentalism as twin injustices to be resisted and eradicated. Meena is seen as a martyr by RAWA members. Her photograph adorns the otherwise bare walls of RAWA houses, classrooms, orphanages, hospitals, and clinics. Because RAWA members operate incognito, Meenaâ€™s face has essentially become RAWAâ€™s face.
RAWAâ€™s underlying philosophy sees womenâ€™s rights as integral to the struggle for human rights, democracy, and national sovereignty. Because women are the main victims of war, religious fundamentalism, and economic globalization, womenâ€™s rights are crucial markers of injustice worldwide. As in the
RAWA has not adopted any specific economic or social ideology. They do advocate â€œeconomic democracy,â€ and secularism. While most RAWA members are Muslim, as are the majority of Afghans, they have seen Islam being used as a political tool of oppression by fundamentalist warlords in government positions.
Excerpts from RAWAâ€™s Charter (twice revised since its inception, to address socio-political changes), define their main aimsas:
(1) womenâ€™s emancipation, â€œwhich cannot be abstracted from the freedom and emancipation of the people as a whole,â€
(2) separation of religion and politics, â€œso that no entity can misuse religion as a means for furthering their political objectives,â€
(3) equal rights of all Afghan ethnic groups,
(4) â€œeconomic democracy and the disappearance of exploitation,â€
(5) commitment to â€œstruggle against illiteracy, ignorance, reactionary, and misogynistic culture,â€
(6) â€œto draw women out of the incarceration of their homes into social and political activity, so that they can liberate themselves economically, politically, legally, and socially,â€
(7) to serve and assist â€œaffected and deserved women and children, in the fields of education, healthcare, and economy,â€
(8) establish and strengthen relations with other pro-democracy and pro-womenâ€™s rights groups nationally and internationally, with such relations â€œbased on the principle of equality and non-interference in each others affairs,â€
(9) â€œsupport for other freedom and womenâ€™s movements worldwide.â€
RAWA bases their struggle on universal principles of human rights and democracy, consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are not bound by the inevitable dogma that results from sectarianism and â€œthe party line.â€
Additionally, RAWA realizes the importance of connecting their struggle with those of other groups worldwide. They regularly express international solidarity in their statements, such as this one:
We declare our unequivocal and unreserved support and solidarity with the struggles of the people and the pro-democracy and progressive forces of
For the formation of a free, independent and democratic
â€“ RAWA statement on 50th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 1998.
RAWAâ€™s strategies, like their political aims, are broad. They are a balance of long-term and short-term strategies of political agitation and humanitarian aid.
Education is seen as part of RAWAâ€™s long-term struggle and is considered their most important strategy. Education of women in particular, is based on the understanding that when women are empowered through literacy and skills, they are more inclined and better equipped to fight for their rights. However, RAWA also educates boys, providing a practical alternative to the brain-washing of religious madrassas. They believe that male domination is a social phenomenon that can be eradicated through education for both boys and girls.
RAWAâ€™s educational projects range from full-fledged schools for girls and boys, all the way down to home-based literacy courses and skills training for adult women. Many women and girls who discover RAWA through these institutions choose to become members. Education also includes skills training for adult women who are struggling to raise families. RAWA teaches women embroidery, sewing, handicrafts, etc. They also teach women farming skills like raising hens for eggs, fish farming, and goat farming. Such courses are labeled â€œincome-generating projects.â€ The goal is to enable women to become financially self-sufficient.
RAWAâ€™s educational policy (see Appendix A) evolved over the years through trial and error. It is based on principles of freedom, peace, non-violence, respect for the environment, as well as gender, ethnic, and religious tolerance. Anne Brodsky observes that â€œPaolo Freireâ€™s groundbreaking work on emancipatory education â€¦ speaks to some of the very same approaches that RAWA espouses.â€ RAWA members are not familiar with the highly influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Freire and have developed their own methods based on an intimate understanding of their communities.
Health Care and Humanitarian Aid
Despite much-touted progress,
RAWA runs clinics and mobile health teams both inside
Because of the large numbers of orphans in
Media, Documentation, and Technology
From their inception RAWA realized that they needed a means of spreading news from independent sources throughout the country, as well as a way to convey news of their activities and achievements.
Payam-e-Zan (translated as â€œWomanâ€™s Voice) is RAWAâ€™s main publication â€“ a magazine that first published in 1981, only four years after they were founded. Payam-e-Zan started out being produced by hand, with several hundred mimeographed copies stealthily passed across the country. Some issues, produced during the most dangerous years, were published in miniature, to make them easier to hide. According to Brodsky, Payam-e-Zan â€œoperates as an educational vehicle through which literacy skills as well as political consciousness are cultivated. The magazine is also a highly effective recruitment toolâ€ for RAWA, â€œserv[ing] as a place to document RAWAâ€™s concerns and standpoints, and as a vehicle to present these ideas to a wide audience.â€
As the casualties of US-backed fundamentalists mounted in the early 1990s, RAWA, realizing that the world had moved on from
Videos of human rights abuses are circulated to news media and documentary film makers, and added to RAWAâ€™s own archive. The most famous example of RAWAâ€™s video documentation was the 1999 public execution of a woman named Zarmeena, by the Taliban in