Sunday, June 10, 2007

Social Work as a Subversive Activity

This is one of the recurring themes of my life. I suppose I want to be more subversive than I really am. But still, there is evidence that what we do changes the world, threatens illegitimate and immoral power, and occasionally involves significant risk.

Certainly one can be a social worker who writes case plans and grant applications, stocks food pantry shelves, or makes the beds at the homeless shelter. That person can do a lot of good in the world. It's no small thing to perceive injustice and set out to right it. Yet, sometimes there's a visionary who changes -or tries to- entire social structures.

Zakia Zaki was such a person. As the owner and manager of Peace Radio and a headmaster of Jebulo Seraj girls' high school in the Parwan province of Afghanistan, she battled injustice in spite of (or because of) the fact that women are facing renewed barriers in both education and public media in Afghanistan. Tragically, she was shot and killed inside her home (in front of her children) early in the morning of June 6.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Challenging social structures is not without its perils. And my heart breaks for her and her children, her students, and the people she served through Peace Radio. All of them are impoverished by her death.

But no woman is an island, either. We were all also enriched by her life and her witness to a world with fewer foolish barriers. Godspeed, Zakia.

To learn more about her, you might watch the DVD, If I Stand Up. Developed by UNESCO in 2005, it documents the political life of women in Afghanistan.

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