A woman member of parliament in Afghanistan, Shukria Barakzai, escaped death in a suicide bombing last November.
Barakzai, who rose to prominence when she ran underground schools for girls when the Taliban ruled the country, says both the previous Afghan government and its Western benefactors have failed to defend the hard-won rights of women.
“For me, what they do to support women’s rights is just lip service, nothing more than that,” says Barakzai, interviewed in hospital where she was recovering from burns to the left side of her face and her left hand from the attack.
And Afghanistan needs support for women’s rights more than most countries.
World Bank data show Afghanistan still lags far behind even its impoverished neighbours in South Asia.
Only 16 per cent of Afghan females above the age of 15 were active in the labour force compared with 57 per cent in Bangladesh and 27 per cent in India. The fertility rate in Afghanistan is 7.2 births per woman versus 3.1 for all of South Asia. Only 14 per cent of births in Afghanistan are attended by a skilled health worker compared with 36 per cent in South Asia. The literacy rate for 15-24 year-old women was 32 per cent compared with 63 per cent in neighbouring Pakistan.
That’s a gruesome set of stats. 7 children. No medical help in childbirth. Illiteracy. You might as well be born a cow or a goat.
Barakzai, a parliamentarian the past decade, has campaigned against the practice of Afghan men marrying multiple wives; her husband, who runs an oil company, took a second wife without consulting her. She stresses the need for long-term investment in education to compete seriously for jobs instead of aid programmes for “workshops or seminars”.
“If you see their projects, they are always the same. Empowering women by a seminar or workshop. Or embroidery, tailoring,” she laughs. “I am tired of these things.”
Live long and prosper, Shukria Barakzai.