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The Woman in Exile Returns: The Sima Wali Story

A Documentary Co-Production of Gould & Fitzgerald and RefWid, Inc.

The Story: After 24 years in exile, Sima Wali returned to the Afghan capital of Kabul in October of 2002 to help rebuild her shattered nation. "I am apprehensive and I know that I'll be devastated," Wali tells us as the aging 727 Ariana Afghan Airlines plane descends over the blasted suburbs of Kabul. "But I'm also hopeful that I will be able to help those who are returning to Afghanistan, especially the women--to rebuild a devastated country and the lives of the Afghan people." Just looking out the window of what was once a vibrant city should be enough to cause despair. But Wali has become inured to the sight of ruined societies and the toll the process has taken on women. As president of Refugee Women in Development, Wali transformed herself from victim to advocate as she worked for decades to empower uprooted women to participate in their own economic and social development. So keen is her understanding that she attended the UN Peace Talks on Afghanistan in Bonn representing the former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah.

For the first time Wali was able to apply those lessons directly to her own people by running a skills-training workshop for women-led Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGO's). Long on "woman power" but short on financial support, indigenous Afghan NGOs provided support services for women and girls clandestinely under the Taliban's harsh rule. Now, funding skills must replace survival tactics, and Wali's workshop will provide local groups with the knowledge necessary to access the pipeline for international aid. For Wali, the workshop's successful conclusion was affirmation, not only that Afghan women could retain their basic beliefs in the freedoms already enshrined in their 1964 constitution, but could also reclaim their rights to those freedoms given the watchful eye and protection of the international community. As the world watches Afghan women reclaim their rights, it is a lesson for all of us to learn.

Impressions of A Woman In Exile Returns: The Sima Wali Story:

After watching the documentary Karen, a Winchester resident, commented that her community based women's organization functions much like the community based organizations we interviewed in Kabul.

"Awesome...It was great to see the actual person going into such a difficult situation to bring what she could, to watch the interaction of the origin of the process of rebuilding starting from the grass roots level on up is awesome. Sima is dealing with the immense emotional shock of returning for the first time in 24 years, but she was genuinely inspired to fight through her trauma to bring something real and good to these courageous Afghan women. I thought it would be hard to watch, but it was filled with REAL hope. I was amazed at the Afghan women's ability to keep going at such a high level for there communities during the Taliban horror. Just never giving up, there tenacity is impressive. I even wondered if I would have survived while trying to provide such services during those dark times for so many decades. I was also shocked to realize how many rights were taken away from these women. Just like here, they got the right to vote in the 1920'S. Suddenly I knew it could happen to me.

This story transcends national boundaries. It is also a powerful story of the sisterhood that connects me to them as women. It's a universal story of how women use their strength in a positive way to survive the horror, to protect their young and provide for their future."

Untold Back Story: Viewed from afar during the 1980's, the struggle for Afghanistan served to rally public support for a war on communism. But the perception of Afghanistan as a mythic struggle between fiercely religious freedom fighters and an Evil Empire disguised the natural evolution of Afghan culture, particularly as it regarded Afghan women's traditionally honored role. Today, Afghans seek to rebuild, reincorporating these progressive democratic elements lost during the war. But the decades of war still haunt efforts at reconstruction while the perception of Afghanistan as a lawless nation run by warlords undermines the reality that genuine democratic reforms can be achieved.

But Afghanistan was always more than just the deciding factor in helping the US win the Cold War against the Soviet Union. From Alexander the Great to the British, to the Soviet Union, Afghanistan's roads are maps of the rise and fall of empires and the path of Western Civilization. And now, the United States has been added to the list. And as today's Afghans struggle out from under the oppression left over from that war, they become the measure of the West's belief in it's own ideals.

Campaign: A key to the future of the United States is the resurrection of Afghanistan from the ashes of the Cold War to it's pre-1979 independence.

© Copyright 2003 Gould & Fitzgerald


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