Malek Setiz: “We must move with the times”

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Mr Malek Setiz is an international relations adviser to the Foreign Ministry of Afghanistan. He sought refuge in Denmark after the civil wars and has been living there for the past 20 years and working for the Danish Institute for Human Rights. Setiz received a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the Higher Institute of International Relations in Moscow and his doctor’s degree from Denmark’s International Strategic Studies Institute. He has worked in several different countries in Central Asia. Despite his international involvement, Setiz has always remained invested in Afghanistan. He assisted in establishing the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and is a founding member of the Civil Society and Human Rights Network in Afghanistan.

Photo : Jawad Darwaziyan / Matthieu Hackière

What are some of the most important achievements in present-day Afghanistan?

I could list many clichéd examples, such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press, but in my opinion, one of the greatest achievements, both for the government and the people, is the new Constitution. Another achievement is the emergence of new and innovative ways of thinking amongst the youth. They are increasingly critical and mobilised, and this change is evident in all areas and at all levels.

What gives you hope in the future?

In light of my experience overseas, I must say the biggest change – I cannot call it an achievement – is the extent of the international community’s attention to Afghanistan. Ever since the first foundations of government were established in Afghanistan 250 years ago, Afghanistan has never received such attention from the world powers and the international community. Afghanistan’s present-day status in the world is a massive change in its history.

What do you fear most today?

My biggest worry is that we in Afghanistan might fail to comprehend and progress in step with the prevailing international values. We must move with the times. I worry that we might fail to convey a proper understanding of modern values so that they can be absorbed into popular opinion in Afghanistan; that we might fail to convey the values of globalisation to the people. That we might not keep up pace with modernity, and that in doing so, we will block the path of progress of Afghanistan and destroy all its structures in the name of the religion, fundamentalism and ethnocentrism.

What are the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan?

Religious institutions are one of these challenges. They are very active and quite dangerous. Another challenge is the widespread presence of fundamentalism in politics. Most political parties are fundamentalist parties. They keep violence as a second option should politics fail them: that is a very dangerous phenomenon for Afghanistan. The Mafiosi structure of the economy is another challenge: it will gradually develop to a regional imperialism. It has already swallowed the domain of politics. From a social perspective, tribalism is a major challenge. Tribal policy has paralysed all political structures.

Will the present-day Afghanistan allow schools to once again be closed to girls and women to be excluded from social participation?

It is already happening! There are reports now that many schools are being closed to girls in the eastern and southern parts of the country and the students and their parents are being threatened with death. If the discontented allies of Mr Karzai manage to infiltrate the political and security structures more than before and consolidate their military-political power, schools will be closed all over the country; this influence will even reach the gates of Kabul.

Which factors deter women from participating equally in social, economic, political, and cultural spheres?

Structural violence has deprived women of opportunities to flourish and participate in society. By this, I mean that violence is intertwined with the structure of the system and the society. It originates from above and is imposed on women. In our society, women depend heavily on men and continue to be deprived of economic, intellectual and social freedoms and independence. That is, they lack their most basic rights. The lack of awareness and knowledge about rights in the society, especially noticeable amongst the women themselves, is another deterrent factor to their effective participation.

What changes are necessary to advance women’s rights in Afghanistan?

The most critical process in Afghanistan, in my opinion at least, is to develop a national plan. A government that derives its legitimacy from the people and has an accountable and efficient leader can meet the demands of its people. Such a government can prioritise the goal of eliminating gender discrimination and move towards the realisation of equality and justice.

Legal reform should also be a priority. So long these reforms are not on foot, women will lack the tools necessary to overcome the challenges they are facing.

"Unveiling Afghanistan, the Unheard Voices of Progress" is a campaign by Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA and FIDH, which explores views held by Afghan civil society actors. Over 50 days, 50 influential social, political, and cultural actors hope to spark conversation and debate about building a society that is inclusive of women’s and human rights in Afghanistan.

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