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A solidarity event for the Afghan people at the USI West Campus: a summary

From left: Prof. Jolanta Drzewiecka, Parwiz Mosamim, Heela Najibullah e Prof. Jean-Patrick Villeneuve
From left: Prof. Jolanta Drzewiecka, Parwiz Mosamim, Heela Najibullah e Prof. Jean-Patrick Villeneuve
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Institutional Communication Service

13 June 2022

"The right to freely define research questions, choose and develop theories, gather empirical material and employ sound academic research methods, to question accepted wisdom and bring forward new ideas. It entails the right to share, disseminate and publish the results thereof openly, including through training and teaching. It is the freedom of researchers to express their opinion without being disadvantaged by the system in which they work or by governmental or institutional censorship and discrimination." Bonn declaration on freedom of academic research, adopted at the Ministerial Conference on the European Research Area on 20 October 2020 in Bonn.

On Saturday, 14 May, USI hosted "Stand for Afghanistan", an event organised by the Ticino Afghan community. It featured a sale of second-hand clothes, a bar with Afghan specialities, theatrical performances, and storytelling in Italian and Farsi, entertainment for children and music. A variety of activities to learn more about Afghanistan. A beautiful sunny day and the lively atmosphere on Campus contributed to the event’s success and created opportunities for meetings and exchanges.

For the occasion, the USI Institute of Communication and Public Policy and the International Relations Service proposed the open round table discussion “Afghanistan under the Taliban: No girls in high schools, no women in government decision-making positions. Where have all the women gone?”. The session featured an open conversation with Heela Najibullah, a doctoral candidate  working on Intergenerational Narratives of the Afghan Conflict at the University of Zurich, and Parwiz Mosamim, an Afghan journalist, and PhD candidate at USI Institute of Communication and Public Policy. Mr. Mosamim is also the very first “Scholars at Risk” hosted at USI. The round table was introduced and moderated by USI Professors Jolanta Drzewiecka and Jean-Patrick Villeneuve.

The introductory words of Prof. Villeneuve highlighted the crucial role of universities as safe and accesible platforms to discuss and debate human rights issues. A forum for expert academic discussions and a space for debate and encounters with all social actors. at different levels, from media and news roles in politics, to corruption affecting social, political and economic aspects in different countries. In this context, USI provides opportunities to collaborate with and host academics from different political realities and provides an accessible and stimulating fora for discussions and research. Eventually, to help develop a better understanding leading to more impactful solutions. Prof. Drzewiecka reminded the audience that the global gender gap remains a high priority issue worldwide. In western countries, women are still a long way off from achieving gender equality with men. Hence, it is important to keep this in mind while discussing the specificities of the setback to women's rights in Afghanistan. Further, we also have to be cognizant that women's rights have always been subject to state interests and a tool in international power struggles.

Journalist Parwiz Mosamim and PhD Heela Najibullah took the audience into an in-depth discussion and meaningful conversation on the ups and downs of women's rights in Afghanistan, the complex history of many decades and the tumultuous recent past. Throughout the changing political landscape of Afghanistan, different groups have exploited women’s rights for political gain, sometimes being improved, then again denied.

Women's rights in Afghanistan have never been considered a status quo, and it is essential not to simply ascribe them to cultural and religious aspects, or at least not consider them only aspect: it is well known that other neighboring Islamic countries are experiencing an increasing women's representation in politics.

Afghans often refer to the period between 1963 and 1973 as their country’s Golden Age period, which saw a profound expansion of woman's rights movements, no restriction in education and considerable investments in architecture and tourism, and later, with the start of the Republic the expansion of democratic organisations

In 1965 the first woman was elected to parliament (while in Switzerland, women gained the right to vote and to stand in elections in 1971. it took until 1984 for a Swiss woman to become a member of the federal government).

Today, under the Taliban, women and girls are discriminated against in many ways. They are banned from schools, the workplace, from showing their face in public, being involved in politics and speaking publicly: women in active representation and equal participation in public institutions and government is, as we all know, again a long way ahead for Afghanistan.

Understanding geopolitics and international interests (the “Afghan gambit of Geopolitics”) is essential to get the picture of the tumultuous political past and present situation. Located at the intersection of major trade routes connecting the north to the south; the east to the west, Afghanistan has attracted a succession of invasions and political interests.

In the past, the Cold War, international interests, and the media power profoundly affected the Afghan internal and foreign policy in ways that allowed the country to keep, during the golden years, an internal and external “balance”: international interventions marked the fate of Afghan women's rights. Today extremely unstable, the Taliban are again examining their foreign affairs policy and international relations at the expense of Afghan women.

 

USI proposed other moments of reflection focused on Afghanistan:

  • an information session featuring Parwiz Mosamim, on Afghanistan's current situation, with a focus on educational restrictions and challenges, took place on 10 May (more detailed information on the event: https://www.usi.ch/en/feeds/20070);
  • a photographic exhibition dedicated to Ella Maillart and Annemarie Schwarzenbach, “Women on the move in time of war”, had been on display from 12 April to 18 May 2022 in the corridors of the Red Building of West Campus (https://www.usi.ch/en/feeds/20084);
  • a fundraising campaign to support Afghan students’ right to study was organized. It was led by the USI student corporation and conceived by Alice Noris, a USI doctoral student and Camilla Speranza, USI alumna and collaborator (https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/sections/sar-switzerland/https://www.usi.ch/en/feeds/20398).