Reporting by ChildFund Afghanistan
On International Women’s Day, it’s important to remember that violence against women is an everyday reality in Afghanistan, according to Ana-Maria Locsin, national director for ChildFund Afghanistan. But it’s a reality ChildFund is seeking to change.
Since 2001, ChildFund has served the northeastern Afghan province of Badakshan, working to prevent gender-based violence and empower women to claim and exercise their rights. “ChildFund listens to women and girls about the issues and problems they face in their homes and communities,” Locsin says.
Because awareness is often the first step toward prevention, ChildFund, with funding from UN Women, provides training to community members on gender-based violence and related issues faced by women and girls. We’ve reached out to 20 communities in Shuhada, Baharak and Argo and held awareness activities with nearly 3,000 community members, most of them women, on domestic violence, women’s participation in society and child protection.
ChildFund is also raising awareness among men. Helping men understand issues around gender-based violence is an important strategy in promoting the rights of women, Locsin notes.
To better protect the rights of children, ChildFund has established 195 Child Well-Being Committees and 120 Family Support Groups in Afghanistan. These groups serve as the first line of support to children and women who are victims of violence or are at risk of abuse.
ChildFund is also building relationships with government officials, child-protection action networks, health providers and the police to help protect and promote the rights of women and children. “This is a key strategy,” Locsin says. “We need government agencies to be aware of gender-sensitive issues and be able to prevent and respond to abuses. By strengthening inter-agency collaboration and referral mechanisms, ChildFund is improving services and support for the victims of gender-based violence.”
At the same time, ChildFund is also empowering women and girls by providing vocational training in skills such as tailoring and carpet weaving, and providing support for entrepreneurs who want to start small businesses.
“My family and I were refugees in Pakistan for 16 years,” says Muzhda, a mother of five. “When we returned to Afghanistan, we lived in a relative’s house because our house was destroyed during the conflict. To survive, my husband worked as a day laborer. I then completed a ChildFund course in carpet weaving and, with the assistance of ChildFund, started my own carpet-weaving business. We were able to build a new house, and we are now able to provide for my family’s needs and children’s education, thanks to the income from my business.”
ChildFund is also providing literacy and numeracy classes to Afghan women and girls. We provide financial support for teachers and provide books, pens and notebooks to students. Through this program, many young women have learned to read and write. Formerly unemployed women are now engaged in successful business enterprises.
“Many of us want to take part in the courses.We have a thirst for learning,” says Nasreen, 24. “I have now learned how to read and write. I have learned math, too. I feel more confident that I can help my children and family.”