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The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) (Persian: جمعیت انقلابی زنان افغانستان Jamiyat-e Enqelābi-ye Zanān-e Afghānestān, Pashto:د افغانستان د ښڅو انقلابی جمعیت) is a women's organization in Afghanistanmarker that promotes women's rights and secular democracy. It was founded in Kabulmarker in 1977 by Meena Keshwar Kamal, a student activist who was assassinated on February 4, 1987 for her political activities. RAWA supports non-violent strategies.

The organization aims to involve women of Afghanistan in both political and social activities aimed at acquiring human rights for women and continuing the struggle against the government of Afghanistan based on democratic and secular, not fundamentalist principles, in which women can participate fully. RAWA also strives for multilateral disarmament.

The group opposed the Sovietmarker-supported government, the following Mujahideen and Taliban Islamist governments, and the present United Statesmarker-supported Islamic Republican form of government. Since RAWA opposes all forms of religious fundamentalism, it is regarded as a controversial group in Afghanistan and Pakistanmarker.


The RAWA was first initiated in Kabulmarker in 1977 as an independent social and political organization of Afghan women fighting for human rights and social justice. The organization then moved parts of its work out of Afghanistan into Pakistan and established their main base there to work for Afghan women.


Meena (1956 - 1987), founder of RAWA
RAWA was founded by a group of Afghan women led by Meena Keshwar Kamal. At age 21, she laid the foundations of RAWA through her work educating women. In 1979, Kamal began a campaign against Soviet forces and the Soviet-supported government of Afghanistan. In 1981, she launched a bilingual magazine called Payam-e-Zan (Women’s Message). In the same year, she visited Francemarker for the French Socialist Party Congressmarker. She also established schools for Afghan refugee children, hospitals and handicraft centers for refugee women in Pakistan. Her activities and views, as well as her work against the government and religious fundamentalists led to her assassination on February 4, 1987.[4313]

Early activities

A protest of RAWA in Peshawar, Pakistan on April 28, 1998.

Much of RAWA's efforts in the 1990s involved holding seminars and press conferences and other fund-raising activities in Pakistan. RAWA also created secret schools, orphanages, nursing courses, and handicraft centers for women and girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. RAWA also secretly filmed women being beaten in the street in Afghanistan by the religious police, and being executed. RAWA activities were forbidden by both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.[4314]

RAWA after the September 11, 2001 attacks

RAWA is highly critical of the NATO war that began in 2001, because of the high rate of casualties among the civilian population. The organization went so far as to threaten to sue United States government for unauthorized use of four photos from their website that were used in propaganda handbills dropped on various cities in Afghanistan during the 2001 invasion. [4315]

After the defeat of the Taliban government by US and Afghan Northern Alliance forces, RAWA warned that the Northern Alliance were just fundamentalist and dangerous as the Taliban. They continue to charge that the current government led by President Hamid Karzai has no support in most areas of Afghanistan, and that fundamentalists are enforcing anti-woman laws as they were under the Taliban. These claims are supported by media reports about the Heratmarker government of Ismail Khan, who has created a religious police that forces women to obey strict dress and behavior codes, as well as many reports by Human Rights Watch. [4316] [4317]

Current activities

RAWA collects funds to support hospitals, schools and orphanages and still run many projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including a project in conjunction with for orphan sponsorships.

Recently RAWA started its mission inside Afghanistan and organize some of its events in Kabul. They marked the International Women's Day in Kabul on March 8, 2006, March 9, 2007 and March 8, 2008.

On September 27, 2006, a RAWA member for the first time (perhaps in the whole history of RAWA) appeared in a round table of a local Afghan TV channel called TOLO TV. She had a debate with a representative of a hard line fundamentalist group. She named the top leaders of the Islamic groups and termed them "war criminal and responsible for the ongoing tragedy in Afghanistan". Tolo TV censored the audio of any sections where names were called.

On October 7, the Afghan Women's Mission (AWM) organized a fund raising event for RAWA in Los Angeles, Californiamarker. Eve Ensler was the chief guest and Sonali Kolhatkar and Zoya, a member of RAWA, were among the speakers.

RAWA and other womens rights groups strongly condemned a "Shia Family Code" in 2009 which is claimed to legalise spousal rape within Northern Afghan Shia Muslim communities, as well as endorsing child marriage, purdah (seclusion) for married women, which was passed by President Hamid Karzai to garner support for his coalition government from hardline elements within the aforesaid communities, as well as the neighbouring Shia-dominated Islamic Republic of Iranmarker. In addition to the above, the new "Family Code" also enshrines discriminatory legal status in the context of inheritance and divorce against women [4318]


RAWA has so far won 16 awards and certificates from around the world for its work for human rights and democracy, some of the awards include The sixth Asian Human Rights Award - 2001 [4319], The French Republic's Liberty, Equality, Fraternity Human Rights Prize, 2000 [4320], Emma Humphries Memorial Prize 2001 [4321], Glamour Women of the Year 2001 [4322], 2001 SAIS-Novartis International Journalism Award from Johns Hopkins University [4323], Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the U.S. Congress, 2004 [4324], Honorary Doctorate from University of Antwerp (Belgium) for outstanding non-academic achievements [4325], as well as many other awards.[4326]

What others say about RAWA

In the book With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan'by Anne Brodsky, a number of world-known writers and human rights activists share their views of RAWA. They include Arundhati Roy who says "Each of us needs a little RAWA"; Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, who suggests that RAWA must stand as a model for every group working to end violence; Katha Pollitt, author of Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture; Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Jihad; and Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur of the UN and prominent women's rights activist of Pakistan are two Pakistanis who write about RAWA and express their support.

See also


Further reading

  • Benard, Cheryl. 2002. Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-1301-9
  • Brodsky, Anne E. 2003. With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93492-3
  • Chavis, Melody Ermachild. 2004. Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan : The Martyr Who Founded RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-30690-3
  • Follain, John and Rita Cristofari. 2002. Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0-06-009782-5
  • Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, 2006. Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence. [4327]
  • Mulherin, Jeannette E. 2004. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan and their Commitment to the Establishment of a Secular Government in Afghanistan. Georgetown University, Washington DC: Masters Thesis

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