Meena Keshwar Kamal

oil on canvas
20" x 10"
Meena Keshwar Kamal

AFGHANISTAN: At 20 years of age, Meena Keshwar Kamal began her work to empower the women of Afghanistan. In 1977 she founded the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) to provide education, shelter, and healthcare to Afghani refugees of the Soviet occupation. In 1981, she launched the feminist magazine Payam-e-Zan ("Woman's Message"). Attaining international recognition for her work, she made several trips to Western Europe to testify of the plight of women in Afghanistan and surrounding refugee camps.

A decade later, she fell prey to the same forces she had spent her adult life fighting against. 1987, she was assassinated in her home in Pakistan along with two members of her family.

Her legacy lives on through RAWA, whose existence became all the more essential with the institution of the extreme fundamentalist rule of the Taliban. Smuggling cameras under their burkas at grave personal risk, RAWA members documented public executions, floggings, and amputations, its website often representing the only window to these and other Taliban abuses available to the world. The organization provided an underground network of services to a desperate population of women forbidden to work, banned from education and sequestered in homes with blackened windows.

Clandestine schools taught girls to read and write in dark basements, mothers learned handicrafts to earn money to feed their children and mobile medical teams provided health care to women who could neither leave their home nor legally speak to a male doctor.

Though Meena Keshwar Kamal had been silenced and martyred, RAWA continues to thrive out of necessity. And in doing so, it still provides hope to a population of Afghani women otherwise condemned to linger without purpose in a culturally mandated state of solitude and isolation.