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Publication Date: Friday, June 13, 2003

Caring for the women Caring for the women (June 13, 2003)

Council member has a mission on return trip to Afghanistan

By Candice Shih

Rosemary Stasek isn't sorry about taking another trip to Afghanistan. The two-term Mountain View City Council member who left last week for a 16-day trip said, when it comes to women's rights, "I'm an unapologetic cultural imperialist."

Unlike her first trip one year ago, Stasek will be on her own and working on original projects. Her number one priority while she's there is to convince prosecutors to release several women in jail to a women's shelter.

The women, who are in their mid-teens, are being punished for marrying men their families did not choose for them. But if they went home, they might be subject to honor killings for having disobeyed their families.

That's why Stasek will be assisting her friend Rachel Waveham, who opened the shelter earlier this year in Kabul.

"What I think I bring is much more perception ... the idea that this American elected official is coming here to ask, 'What's going on here?'" Stasek said, hopeful that the Afghan government will take her trip and her efforts seriously.

While staying with Waveham, she also plans to impart her knowledge of preserving fruit to Afghan women. A fourth-generation preserver in her family, Stasek will teach the women at the shelter how to produce large quantities of jam which they can sell and perhaps use to become economically independent.

"This trip is about going back to do real work and setting a stage to being in a position to continue to help," said Stasek.

A 39-year-old substitute teacher and freelance Web developer, Stasek said her interest in helping Afghan women began when she learned of the Taliban's abuses prior to 9/11.

"The women there were in such obvious need," she said. "There's no place else in the world where women were so abused."

Consequently, after she lost the Democratic primary for a seat in the state Assembly last year, she was able to take cross-global trip. "It all ended up being right as it turned out," she said.

On her first trip last May, Stasek joined a group of young Afghan-Americans on a planned tour that included a meeting with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Inconspicuous they were not. Kabul TV followed them throughout their stay, and because some of the women did not wear headscarves, they literally stopped traffic.

Traveling without an entourage and taking part in everyday Kabul life will be safer, said Stasek. But that doesn't appear to ease her parents' states of mind. "My parents are freaked out, of course."

But they aren't surprised. Stasek has also visited Cuba illegally and wants to visit Vietnam, Iran and Iraq.

Although she will have missed one city council meeting by the time she returns, Stasek said her global activism doesn't intrude upon her local duties. "I don't feel like I do anything less in Mountain View because I go to Afghanistan. ... I feel that they've really complemented each other. When I go to Afghanistan, I represent this community."

E-mail Candice Shih at [email protected]


 

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