“Are you waiting there for me?” It’s a phrase that may well have saved Sima Parwani’s life.

While in Afghanistan conducting research for her Liberal Studies Graduating Project this past summer, Sima spent a lot of time in taxis. As a woman returning alone in the country of her birth, Sima knew that she was now identified as a foreigner—not as a local. This made her a potential target for abduction.

“I would call anyone I could from the taxi—my husband, my brother—and mention the address I gave to the driver. I would ask, ‘Are you waiting there for me?’” Even though they were not in the country, her relatives would play along and say yes.

“They knew what I was doing,” Sima says. “I was giving the signal, ‘Yes, I’m alone in this taxi, but there is someone waiting for me.’”

Sima Parwani is a fourth-year Capilano University student who has made violence against women in post-Taliban Afghanistan the subject of her grad project research. This Thursday, Sima will speak on “Women’s Rights and Religion: Can They Go Hand in Hand?” as part of International Women’s Day events at Capilano U.

Having grown up in Afghanistan as the eldest of eight daughters, Sima has first-hand experience of what it was like to be a woman under the Taliban government. She wanted to know how much the situation for women had changed—if at all.

This past summer, the trained journalist braved active bombing and the possibility of abduction or kidnapping to return to her country and interview female Members of Parliament (like Fawzia Koofi), along with activists and victims of violence to find out about the current situation of Afghani women.

Sima says that although there are now more than 60 women in the Afghani Parliament, only three or four of them are active and have a voice. Most “just go there and take a paycheque,” she says.

Her research suggests that there has been little mainstream change since the end of the Taliban regime. In fact, groups like Daesh (the Islamic State) continue to “pressurize” women. Domestic violence and the ongoing lack of a voice and the lack of enforcement of international law pertaining to women are issues that continue to affect Afghani women in every walk of life.

“When power is in the hands of either religion or men, then it’s very hard to get the rights that you deserve,” Sima says. She is quick to note that religion itself does not cause this problem. Rather, “culture drives people to do crazy things to women and violate women’s rights in the name of religion.”

Sima’s own experience growing up in Afghanistan contained elements of empowerment. “I was brought up very outspoken,” she says, noting that her father “treated us as sons—really like humans,” she says. He believed in his daughters making something out of themselves and insisted on homeschooling them.

Yet it is her hard-working but illiterate mother that Sima credits with the fact that she and all eight of her sisters now have post-secondary or graduate-level education (one sister is a doctor and another is a principal).

Sima’s mother was married in her late teens to a man in his 60s. “She was very smart, very hard-working, but there were times that she felt hopeless because she couldn’t read or write,” Sima recalls. “All she wanted was for her daughters to get our degrees.” Her mother made sacrifices to ensure that her daughters all went to regular school, in addition to their father’s homeschooling.

“Yes, we were educated by our father,” Sima says. “But the strength, power and drive are from my mother.”

Submitted by Communications & Marketing

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Hear Sima speak about her experience at this Thursday’s ChatLive, Library Building LB188, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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