Oxford platform for girls education advocate


Farkhunda Trust founder Rahela Sadiqi joined a panel of speakers in Oxford on November 20th to discuss the impact of aid on development in Afghanistan – and the vital importance of education for girls.

At the invitation of the Oxford International Relations Society she joined Dr Michael Ryde and journalist Bahar Joya in a discussion chaired by Professor Sue Doran.

After the main event the audience of students and supporters at St Benet’s Hall, St Giles had an opportunity to meet Ms Sidiqi and learn more about the life changing impact of the Farkhunda Trust which was set up in memory of Farkhunda Malikzada, whose brutal murder on the streets of Kabul in 2015 shocked the world. Its mission is to provide scholarships to women from disadvantaged backgrounds to enable them to pursue higher education and, ultimately, to contribute to shaping a progressive Afghan society.

PICTURE SHOWS: Rahela Sidiqi and Oxford  student Malala Yousafzai.

Extracts from Rahela Sidiqi’s speech follows:  “I believe that if we do things better, and especially pay closer attention to the culture of change towards development – that is the institutional and behaviour  incentives towards change – and alignment with Afghan Government priorities, we will set ourselves on a path towards a self-sufficient Afghanistan that will be a net contributor to peace and security.

Let me explain. Any country that has experienced the levels of destruction and conflict that Afghanistan has needs support. But this support must be defined together with the international community and must be based on the priorities and deep engagement of Afghans themselves.

For far too long, the nature of development has been donor-driven with Afghans in the backseat.

Moreover, the scores of technical assistants provided to the government – while good intentioned – has often leeched capacity rather than built Afghan capacity. I believe that these two factors are key to why we have seen such a weak impact on Afghanistan development strategy despite all the money provided.

Let me give you some figures. For instance, there has been little on-budget aid investment in education, institutional building, and infrastructure development. For example, in 2013, 82% of international aid was used outside Afghanistan system and 70% of aid was used for security force in 2011. While it is important to strengthen security forces, it is not sufficient. Peace and security will come with tangible improvement in people’s lives. And that will not happen if we spend 18% (Social Protection1%, Education 2%, Private sector 2% Health 4%, Agriculture 5%) for the rest of sectors. Today, however, we have a real opportunity to change things and set the course right.”

She reminded the audience that Afghanistan had a Government in place and – in spite of all its challenges –  a reform vision to bring self-sufficiency to the country by 2025.

“Let me quickly state its main five objectives:

  • FIRST, to increase Government ownership in the development, coordination and administration of aid.
  • SECOND, to strengthen economic management through increased development assistant via on budget aid.
  • THIRD, to better coordinate off budget flow from international donors and partners
  • FOURTH, to operationalise the commitment to aid effectiveness within the Tokyo Framework through a process of mutual accountability.
  • FIFTH to increase transparency and accountability with the Afghan Government and development partners.

Reform will take a long time to take root and may spark violence in the interim as vested interests are threatened, but we have another opportunity here that we can leverage. This second opportunity is the new generation of Afghan leaders, who are more educated and connected with more global outlooks than the previous generation who monopolise power.

In this new government,  several hundred young people under the age of 40 have been appointed to positions of power. And many of them are also young women working in the Office of the Presidency and across ministries.   I cannot overstate the importance of this new generation. These young people in government are dynamic, creative, more open to taking risks and trying new ideas, and ready to challenge the corrupt structures that be. But they need our support and commitment.

The third is how the most successful, programs – that have been internationally acclaimed – were the family of National Programs designed and implemented by the Government, with clear rules and responsibilities with funding from development partners, where the Government sets policy, and where NGOs or private sector provides service delivery within clear and fair parameters. These include the National Health Program which resulted from a collaboration between WB, USAID, EU on one clear framework; and the National Solidarity Program now Citizens Charter which I had the privilege to serve on as one of the core founder — which gave block grants to 34,000 villages and where communities themselves managed the grants. The next phase of this program under Citizen Charter is to integrate the village level to ensure the villages can demand and hold accountable the government ministries to provide them basic services.

Critical to increasing young women’s participation in government and  across all sectors of society is the role of higher education. Today, only 25% women succeed to enter to state university but the demand is at least four times more.

What are their challenges in access? Often, it is about accommodation, transport, food, – all of which keeps most young poor women out of schools and often marrying way too young. Many also have to support their families and thus do not have the time or energy to attend school.

We believe that a central reason that Afghanistan is one of the least developed countries is because of the marginalization of half the population – an entire gender. They are critical to development, to building the economy, strengthening their communities and keeping young marginalized boys from bad influences.

Today, we have a new opportunity. A national priority of the National Unity Government is empowering woman to their full potential. For the first time, we have an active first lady who is supporting young women.

And we at Farkhunda Trust are trying our best to do our part. We are a very young organisation and have only been in operation for 1.5 years. We were established   after the brutal killing of Farkhunda Malikzada. But we already have established MoUs with two  universities and are supporting 13 excellent young women from disadvantaged background; women who   without the support of our Trust, would not be able to attend university.

We believe women can be mothers  who  train their  children to use their vision for building Afghanistan and his nation rather hen join extremism. They could be the agent of change to bring moderate Islam and to value the women potential as their equal partner of development process.”

Rahela H. Sidiqi is the founder and UK Director of the Farkhunda Trust and is an Afghan women’s rights activist who was determined to improve the situation of women in Afghanistan following the tragic death of Farkhunda Malikzada.

Rahela has over 22 years of experience in managing programs such as emergency relief, conducting and organising management training, provision of policy papers, strategic plans and manuals for relevant project programs for government, the UN and the World Bank. She has founded two charities in Afghanistan and the UK and has provided leadership advice to the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission and other senior level leaders in Afghanistan. She is a reformist and anti-corruption activist at government and civil society levels. She has extensive experience in the area of organisation development participatory training, planning and management, project formulation, and monitoring and evaluation. She has strong experience in team building. She has an extensive background in the area of human rights, women’s rights advocacy, women and youth solidarity and coalition building. She works to build capacity in building partnerships in relation to relevant stakeholders. She works with the private sector, government, and local and international organisations.




Reflections on the nature of evil


“My son’s name was Nermin and he was just one of over 8,000 men and boys who were massacred at Srebrenica. In the 22 years since he was murdered, all the authorities have been able to find of him are two of his bones, these bones were found in two separate mass graves, over 25 km apart.”

By Glyn Strong

 A hushed audience listens to the testimony of Munira Subašić.[1] An indomitable woman driven by pain and desire for justice, she was one of several speakers marking Srebrenica Memorial Day on 11th July at London’s historic Guildhall. 

Twenty-two years have passed since that shameful chapter in European history but Munira’s passion cuts through the decades like a blade. Everyone in the vast room is transported in time to the event of which Kofi Anan said, “Through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.”

In 1995 more than 8,000 Bosniaks – mainly Muslim men and boys – were massacred in the now infamous Balkan town. What is less well known is that as part of the same orchestrated genocide as many as 50,000 women in the region were raped or subjected to sexual violence.

As it had done after the Holocaust, the world hung its metaphorical head in shame and said ‘never again’.

Twenty years later, a mob of hate-crazed men stoned to death a 27-year-old woman in Kabul; a student with an impressive educational background in Sharia law. After refusing to purchase a taweez (a religious amulet with inscriptions from the Quran) from a male street vendor, she was accused of blasphemy. That lie provoked a storm of hatred that shocked the world. Farkhunda wasn’t just killed, she was obliterated; repeatedly stamped on, beaten, dragged through the streets and run over by a car. The clothes were torn from her body, which was hurled from a wall before being set alight. The video captured on camera phones is stomach churning.

Time, numbers and distance aside, the two events have something sinister in common. They were fuelled by such a chilling disregard for human life that descriptions of how they happened prompt disbelief.

Events in Srebrenica were being played out against the background of a conflict that featured nightly on national TV – the attack on Farkhunda Malekzada occurred in a public place and was witnessed by members of the public and police.

Reactions to this kind of violence are diverse: discomfort, shame, anger, pity – and in some cases denial. Farkhunda’s murder can perhaps be attributed to the ‘red mist’ that inspires mobs to act as a single beast, bereft of reason and intent on destruction. But the Srebrenica genocide was planned, calculated and deliberate. Both events were driven by a malevolence so strong that only annihilation would satisfy its perpetrators.

In the Middle Ages evil could be displaced. It was an entity. It had a face. Today religion, superstition and belief in the supernatural have been replaced by a conviction that we are not puppets of higher powers, but individuals with free will, in control of our own destinies.

The downside of this is that mankind then has to ‘own’ evil and take collective responsibility for its exercise. We become guilty by omission, inertia and inactivity.

Munira Subašić, President of the Mothers of Srebrenica, says: “Justice is not a privilege, it is a human right, and the 8,372 people who died at Srebrenica were human beings. Every year in July, people across the world remember them and they remember our loss, and we are truly grateful for that. But what I want to make clear is that for us, telling our stories and fighting for justice doesn’t end after July commemorations, this is the fight of our lives, and we will never stop fighting. As we women grow older, we feel the weight of responsibility on our shoulders to ensure that our stories, and the stories of our loved ones are heard and remembered, and that when we are gone, others will continue to fight for justice.”

‘Justice’ is a word used often by the rape victims of Srebrenica. “We don’t want vengeance,” they say, “we want justice.”

Some would argue that there is a fine line between the two but it’s a noble sentiment. The men who violated Bakira Hasečić and her daughter still walk freely but she meets their eyes with defiance these days. “When us survivors first started returning to Višegrad, we felt that we had to hide from these war criminals who had tried to destroy our lives, but now when I go to Višegrad, these war criminals hide from me. Now when I return to my Višegrad, I hold my head high, and I hope that one day all survivors will find their strength to do the same.”

The men who murdered and abused Farkhunda for having the temerity to express an opinion about Islam, their shared faith, melted into the crowds after their frenzied orgy of destruction. Most of those who were arrested were later released. Her family’s pain is enduring; still gripped by grief they are paralysed by fear of reprisals if they protest.

It’s hard to imagine how anything good can come of such evil deeds, but one London-based Afghan woman and her friends are ensuring that it does. Rahela Siddiqi still recalls the day she heard what had happened to Farkhunda and the physical impact it had. “I felt evil like a bang that hit me, like my body was burning!”

She and her 11-year-old daughter Rasheel Barikzai were preparing for Nowruz, the period of preparation for Afghan New Year and traditionally a time of happiness. They were stunned. “We just asked ‘Why? Why? Why?’; I felt every stone as though it were dropped on my own head and body.”

Initially paralysed with horror they vowed to turn the senseless murder of a brave young woman into something positive and, with help from like-minded supporters, set up The Farkhunda Trust for Afghan women’s education.

Rahela says, “I did it because in my heart I wanted to keep Farkhunda alive in name and aim. I thought she should be remembered by generations as symbol of bravery and a defender of women’s rights in the worst possible environment for women. I wanted the world to be aware of this horror, of the devastating actions of this mob.”

Like Munira Subašić and Bakira Hasečić, Rahela and her friends determined to use their strength as women to do two things: to ensure that a great evil was never forgotten and to make something positive came from it.

Munira said to her captive audience at the Guildhall, “I did not come here today just to speak about what happened at Srebrenica, I came here today because I want to make a call to action. To everyone who sees our injustice and feels our pain, I hope you will join us in fighting for truth, justice and a better future.”

A ‘better future’ for an Afghan girl denied access to education is something Rahela is already delivering. The sum of £1,530 (including feed of £700) buys one year’s university education, and with education comes power.

“I felt that preventing violence against women should become our top responsibility” said Rahela. “I hoped that through our joint efforts we could make a difference; we could increase the number of brave women like Farkhunda and ensure that such evil acts would not be allowed again.”

Its seems that throughout history events occur that make us examine our collective humanity and shiver with shame at their enormity. Does evil exist? Rahela thinks so. “I think evil is everywhere where there are people of malevolent and immoral nature, harming God’s creatures and humanity in particular. Good human beings have a duty to stay their

[1] The event was organised in the UK by the charity Remembering Srebrenica http://www.srebrenica.org.uk/.

 Read original article in The Courant HERE.

Afghan Court Confirms Reduced Sentences in Mob Killing of Farkhunda

09afghanistan-web-master675One defendant was the custodian of a holy shrine who trafficked in Viagra, condoms and pagan amulets, and who, when exposed, falsely accused a young woman named Farkhunda of burning a Quran. Another was an employee from an optician’s shop who joined a growing mob at the shrine and pummeled Farkhunda with a rock the size of a watermelon writes Rod Norland and Jawad Sukhanyar

Another was an Afghan intelligence agent who bragged on Facebook that he had the honor of striking the fatal blow against her. Another man drove his car over her, twice.

Those men were sentenced to death last year in what briefly looked like a rare moment of justice for Afghan women, and other convictions seemed imminent. But in the months afterward, as detailed last year in an investigation by The New York Times, failures at every stage of the justice process surfaced. Clear leads did not turn into arrests, and tough sentences were drastically reduced — including for those four men identified at the center of the violence, who had their death sentences turned into as little as 10 years in prison.

Now, Afghanistan’s Supreme Court has confirmed the decision to vacate those four death sentences, and nine other defendants also had their sentences reduced. Word of that decision came late Monday in a restrained announcement by the attorney general, and all day Tuesday it became the inescapable backdrop for International Women’s Day observations in Kabul.

The country’s first lady, Rula Ghani, making the keynote address for the occasion before a gathering including many women’s leaders, acknowledged the disappointment and tried to assure the audience that the Supreme Court decision in “the case of our dear martyred Farkhunda” would be reconsidered. And she drew attention to progress for Afghan women under the government of her husband, President Ashraf Ghani. “The reforms brought in the judiciary system are in favor of women,” she said.

Still, there was a growing sense of outrage among the women who had gathered to observe the day.

“Even if all those involved would be executed, it is still not enough,” said Maryam, a police colonel who leads a human rights office in an elite unit, and who uses just one name.

Of 49 men originally arrested in Farkhunda’s killing, only 13 have so far been given serious penalties — nearly all of them greatly reduced on appeal. All the death sentences were vacated.

In addition, many activists claim that some of those most responsible — and identified in cellphone video of the killing — have still not been arrested. “I believe the main perpetrators of this case, those who were behind it, are still not brought to justice,” said a female senator, Anarkali Honaryar.

The mob murder of Farkhunda on March 19 last year was initially greeted with public jubilation here, even among many government officials, until evidence mounted that she had been falsely accused. Rather than burning the Quran, she had been working to defend it: She was an Islamic scholar who was upset by the shady goings-on at the Shah-Do Shamshira Mosque, one of Kabul’s most popular shrines. Those included un-Islamic practices like fortunetelling and selling amulets, as well as allegations of pimping and prostitution.

Nineteen of the people arrested in connection with Farkhunda’s death were police officers accused of failing to intervene to save her; most of the policemen were given token penalties, such as pay reductions or cancellation of leave time while on duty.

Thirty other cases were prosecuted, but 17 of those were dismissed by an appeals court. In the remaining 13 cases, the appeals court recommended the reduction of sentences, leading lawyers representing the victim’s family to appeal to the Supreme Court.

While the court’s decision was made a month ago, according to lawyers for Farkhunda’s family, it was kept secret until a brief announcement late on Monday by the attorney general’s office.

Yalda Nasimi, one of the family’s lawyers, said the family would ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision, which was apparently what Mrs. Ghani was referring to. Ms. Nasimi said a petition would be lodged with the court within two months.

The controversy surrounding the case led Farkhunda’s family to flee to neighboring Tajikistan, where they remain. “Not only do we oppose the decision of the Supreme Court, but the entire nation is dissatisfied,” said Farkhunda’s brother, Mujibullah Malikzada, reached by telephone in Dushanbe. “I’m not saying that the perpetrators must be lynched the way they lynched my sister. But all I want is fairness and justice, which has not been done.”

Hasina Safi, the director of the Afghan Women’s Network, a coalition of advocacy groups, said the court’s decision would not lessen the determination of activists to pursue the case. “We are going to begin again tomorrow to organize on social media, and we are trying to take this case up internationally,” she said. “Justice for Farkhunda is justice for all of Afghanistan’s women.”

A coalition of women’s groups organized under the Justice for Farkhunda banner planned to meet late Tuesday to decide how to respond to the Supreme Court decision, according to Nargis Azaryon, an activist with the coalition. “It is obvious that justice has not been done fairly, and we are not satisfied at all,” she said.

Many women in government were more circumspect, possibly because of the embarrassment the case has brought to the country at a time when its leaders are emphasizing gains in women’s rights. Five officials of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs who were at Mrs. Ghani’s speech Tuesday were contacted and refused to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision.

Of the four men formerly sentenced to death in the case, three had their sentences reduced to 20 years, including the custodian of the shrine, Zainuddin; the intelligence agent, Sharaf Baghlani; and the defendant who drove his car over Farkhunda’s body, Abdul Basheer.

Muhammad Yaqoub, the optician’s employee, had his death sentence reduced to 10 years in prison because the appeals court said he was 17 at the time of the crime. Some activists have disputed that he was underage, however, and the original trial court said his age had been determined from faked documents.

Baseer Azizi, the spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said that while the reduced sentences were confirmed by the Supreme Court’s decision, the court had also ordered a review of the other cases that had been dismissed earlier. Most of those cases — believed to number 17, although accounts vary — involved much lesser penalties.


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Afghan president reopens case of Farkhunda Malikzada’s killing

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan president has ordered his government to reopen the case of a woman beaten to death last year by a frenzied mob outside a Kabul shrine, just days after the country’s highest court reduced the sentences of the 13 men convicted of her murder writes Lynne O’Donnell.


Ashraf Ghani’s move comes ahead of the first anniversary of Farkhunda Malikzada’s killing and as a leading international rights group issued a report slamming Afghanistan’s judicial system over its failure to deliver justice in the high-profile case.

In its statement, Human Rights Watch called it a “bitter irony” that the Supreme Court in Kabul had confirmed the reduced sentences on March 8, the International Women’s Day.

The 27-year-old Malikzada was attacked and lynched on March 19 last year outside a shrine in the Afghan capital after one of the men in the group shouted that she had burned a Quran, the Muslim holy book — an accusation that was later found to be false.

The brutal slaying stunned the country and led to calls for reform of the judicial system, long plagued by corruption, partisanship and incompetence, and stronger protection for women from violence.

A spokesman for Ghani, Zafar Hashemi, said the newly-appointed attorney general had been instructed by the president to “make justice for Farkhunda his top priority and reopen the case.”

“The president has assigned a senior and dedicated adviser from his legal team to follow up and provide support to Farkhunda’s family lawyers,” Hashemi told The Associated Press. “He asks for regular reporting on her case and puts significant pressure on law enforcement authorities to make sure that justice is delivered.”

Four men were originally sentenced to death for Malikzada’s murder and another nine were handed long prison sentences. However, the Supreme Court this week upheld a lower court’s decision to reduce the sentences for all convicted.

Three of the death sentences were commuted to 20 years in prison and the fourth to 10 years. The other nine men convicted in the case also had their prison terms slashed. Initially, 30 men were charged with Malikzada’s murder.

Footage taken on cell phones of the attack showed Malikzada being punched, kicked and beaten with wooden planks, after which the crowd threw her from a roof, ran over her with a car and crushed her with a block of concrete. They then set her body ablaze on the bank of the Kabul River.

The incident triggered widespread demonstrations, across Afghanistan and internationally, demanding justice for women in a country where they are widely treated with contempt and where they have their constitutional right to protection from violence routinely breached. An Afghan civil rights group has erected a memorial to her on the river bank.

The New York-based rights group said that by commuting the death sentences, the Afghan justice system “averts the further cruelty of capital punishment,” but added that justice had not been done for Malikzada.

“At every stage of this case, the Afghan criminal justice system failed to adequately investigate, hold to account or appropriately punish those responsible,” HRW said.

Shukria Jalalzay, the director of the Afghan Women’s Coordination and Promotion Organization, said rights groups continued to exert pressure on Ghani to keep his word on ensuring justice for Malikzada.

“It has been almost a year and slowly the punishments for those convicted of her murder are decreasing,” she said. Like many activists, Jalalzay said she believes the police’s role in the attack resulted in the politicization of the case.

The cellphone footage from the attack has shown police stood by watching while Malikzada was being beaten to death. A total of 19 police were prosecuted for their failure to prevent her death. HRW noted that “the court lightly disciplined only 11” policemen. Those hearings were separate from the trials of the attackers.

“Justice has not been served,” Jalalzay said.

Hashemi, the president’s spokesman, said that under the Afghan constitution Ghani “cannot interfere in affairs of the judiciary.” He added that the president “personally follows on support” provided to Malikzada’s family.

In the year that has passed since the lynching, most of Malikzada’s family has left Afghanistan for Tajikistan, after her father, Mohammad, told the AP that they had received death threats during the early stages of the court cases. He said the children in the family could not go to school and the adults could no longer go to work, and that they felt abandoned by the government and the justice system.



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