Afghanistan - interview with documentary-maker Diana Saqeb

Afghan women come out from under the burka

Tony Cross

What image do you have of women in Afghanistan? Documentary-maker Diana Saqeb thinks that most of the world sees her countrywomen as “under the burka” – uneducated and downtrodden.


“I try to show to the world the other face of Afghan women,” she said in an interview in RFI’s Paris studios on Thursday.

Saqeb is in France as part of a group of Afghan journalists here to meet colleagues in this country.

She has made two films, which both look at Afghan women who have stood up for themselves and made high-profile careers – but in very different fields.

I’m sure that if we could work on the mind of the people, then we could bring changes in Afghanistan.

Afghan journalist Diana Saqeb

 Bedo Roobina Bedo (Run Roobina Run) is about the first Afghan girl to take part in the Olympics – in Beijing in 2008.

25 Darsan (25 per cent) follows six female MPs in their work and their personal lives.

“For the first time I wanted to show the people that we have a lot of educated women, that they know very well about their rights and they are fighting for their rights,” she says.

But, despite their high public profile and their level of education, the 68 female MPs mostly owe their seats to a quota system and face problems arising from local culture and traditions.

“Most of these women, they are the second wife of their husband or, for example, their husband has two or three other wives,” Sageb says. “They are not independent. They are MPs but they have a lot of problems with their families.”

Saqeb’s own sister, Sabrina, is an MP and, at 28-years-old, the country’s youngest. She is single and has the support of her family in trying to inform women and children of their rights and inciting them to fight for them.

The Afghan parliament can be a tough workplace for a woman, especially if she is independent-minded.

When, in 2007, female MP Malalai Joya denounced warlords and corrupt powerbrokers in the chamber, male MPs threw objects at her and tried to drive her off the podium, shouting threats. She compared the parliament to a zoo and was banned from standing again in 2009.

“At that time my sister was there and … she was with Malalai Joya,” recalls Saqeb. But she favours a more cautious approach to Joya’s confrontational tactics.

“We think we have to solve these problems step by step,” she says, working patiently to change the attitudes of the former anti-Soviet mujahedeen who dominate much of Afghan life today.  

 “I’m sure that if we could work on the mind of the people, then we could bring changes in Afghanistan.”

Although she wants to change some aspects of Afghan culture, she thinks that foreigners should make more effort to understand it. 

“All of the countries, they are focused on the politicians and the politics and the military. But I think Afghanistan needs some focus on the culture."

“When I talk with the Western people and when you come to Afghanistan and talk with the Western military, you can see that they don’t know anything about Afghan culture and I think this is a problem. They think the Afghan people, they are terrorists and they are so closed-mind … they are scared from the Afghan people.”

But ordinary Afghans want peace, she says, “they like life … they are not Taleb.”

If Westerners could understand that, Saqeb believes, they could work closely with the Afghan people.



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