International Women’s Day

In Afghanistan, Women Strive for Education and Equal Rights

By Wendy Barron, ChildFund Afghanistan National Director

Saturday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, which has been observed for more than 100 years. Equal rights, education, empowerment and independence for women and girls — all over the world — are the cornerstone of the day, tenets that ChildFund supports. Mahdia, the Afghani woman interviewed here, declined to have her photo published because she was worried about her husband and male relatives’ reaction to her likeness being seen by people outside the ChildFund Afghanistan office, particularly men.

A huge smile lights up Mahdia’s face as she reads a sentence from her Dari book, which teaches phrases in the language used in Mahdia’s community.

Mahdia is one of ChildFund Afghanistan’s cleaners and, like the majority of Afghani women, she is illiterate. Two times a week, she and I sit together, as we are taken through the intricacies of the Dari language in our quest to read and write it. She has an advantage over me in that she can speak the language, but as for the rest of the tasks, we both struggle. 

For the rest of the day and ensuing days, the ever-present smile gets bigger and bigger, and there is a sense of something different about her — a confidence that is slowly uncoiling and emerging like the blooming of a flower.  

literacy classes in Afghanistan

Most Afghani women are illiterate because they did not have the opportunity to attend school. These women are studying today in a literacy course. Mahdia is not pictured.

Like Mahdia, I come from a poor background, but the difference between our somewhat parallel lives is that I was able to receive an education. Also, I was born in the country that, in 1893, became the first in the world to give women the right to vote. Today’s New Zealand women benefit from the struggle in which our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers succeeded in ensuring equal opportunities for women. In fact, if you were to ask New Zealand men how they perceive the rights and opportunities for New Zealand females, they would more than likely tell you it is 60 percent/40 percent in favor of women.

Afghanistan’s women were awarded the right to vote in 1964. The new constitution established in 2004 states, “Any kind of discrimination and privilege between the citizens of Afghanistan is prohibited. The citizens of Afghanistan — whether man or woman — have equal rights and duties before the law.” But despite having the ability to vote and having a constitution that notes gender equality, the majority of Afghani women have not seen many significant improvements in their lives. Indeed, Afghanistan is recognized as being one of the most dangerous countries to be a female.

It is estimated that 75 percent of Afghani women have no education. The average lifespan of women is 49 years; 85 percent of women face, or have faced, abuse or physical violence. And Afghanistan still has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Early marriage is extremely common as well. 

Most women and girls face precarious prospects in a highly fragile environment buffeted by low economic performance and high poverty, food insecurity, as well as high levels of insecurity and exclusion on account of gender. 

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and reflect on the progress made so far in the quest to achieve equality for women and girls worldwide, we also recognize what still needs to happen.

A month after International Women’s Day, with its theme of Inspiring Change, the people of Afghanistan will head to the polls to elect a new president. As many of the presidential candidates campaign on the need to recognize the rights of women and make promises of bringing improvement to women’s lives, many Afghani women are hopeful that 2014 will be a year of positive change for both them and their country. They are calling for changes in attitudes and positive action for women’s equality; if Afghanistan is to make progress, the status quo cannot continue.

Mahdia tells me that she is doing all she can to encourage her daughters to get good educations so they can have opportunities that she has been denied. She also tells me — with that big smile lighting up her face — that they are so proud of her learning to read and write.

As I sit here in Afghanistan, I can’t help but wonder how my life may have turned out had it not been for the opportunities I have had, because I was born a female in New Zealand.

A Sister Among Mothers

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

“Not today, Sister,” the woman whispered to Jo-anne. They had the street to themselves, but the woman spoke in hushed tones. “You shouldn’t go today,” she repeated.

A nun in front of art painting in the Philippines

Sister Jo-anne’s love for children has won the respect of local mothers, who now welcome and watch over her.

Jo-anne understood the advice. Danger was afoot, according to the woman, who is a member of the Tausug indigenous communities in the southern Philippines. Jo-anne is a nun who works for a local organization that partners with ChildFund.

Jolo is the largest island in the Sulu archipelago, which comprises the southernmost tip of the Philippine Islands. There, rolling hills give way to pristine coastlines of crystal clear water and fine white sand. In the provincial capital, also named Jolo, the exotic durian fruit is found in such abundance that a mere breath of air yields a trace of the fruit’s distinct yet controversial smell (imagine garlic plus old garbage).

Despite Jolo’s beauty, the island is not a tourist destination because of abductions and frequent clashes between government and armed groups. Private investors and even development agencies have withdrawn to the safety and convenience of cities like Davao and Cagayan de Oro in nearby Mindanao.

Jo-anne was born in the Mindanao mainland. Her father was a farmer, and her mother was a public school teacher. Growing up in a community of Christians and Muslims, she developed an appreciation for different beliefs and cultures. Jo-anne worked as a government agricultural technologist for five years until 1999, when she decided to join a religious order.

As a nun, Jo-anne served in different provinces in Mindanao. Her assignment to Jolo in 2011 as a project manager posed unique challenges.

Jo-anne had to learn the Tausug language and its culture, which is different from the mainland’s. “Children were my first tutors in the local language,” she says.

Another concern was safety. On her commute to work, Jo-anne often saw curious crowds flocking to fresh crime scenes. Other times, the motorcycle taxi driver would share news of an armed clash between government and militia the night before. “That kind of thing always used to scare me,” she says. “It came to a point where I confronted myself, asking if I would let fear keep me from my work.”

Working in partnership with ChildFund did much to help Jo-anne allay her fears. “ChildFund’s reputation for working in some of the most difficult circumstances in the Philippines lends me much credibility,” she says.

Also, Jo-anne’s work with Tausug children endeared her to their families, particularly mothers, who grew protective of her. When possible, one or two mothers accompany Jo-anne when she travels to rural villages to visit ChildFund project sites or the homes of sponsored children.

Sometimes, Jo-anne hears, “Not today, Sister. You shouldn’t go. You should stay in town today.” This is the warning mothers share whenever news of troop movements, incursions or other dangers reaches their ears. When Jo-anne is already in the field, the women make sure she is properly accompanied and escorted home or to town. Jo-anne’s thankful to be included in the local “warning chain,” despite being an outsider.

“I’ve learned being a woman in these circumstances is an advantage,” Jo-anne says. “The Tausug regard women highly, mothers particularly.” Though Jo-anne has chosen a religious life, the Tausug mothers identify with her because she has devoted herself to the wellbeing of their children.

Today Jo-anne continues to travel all over Jolo. She remains cautious, but because of this web of protection, she is no longer as scared.

“When I arrive home at the end of the day, I exclaim my thanks, not for making it back safely, but for the mothers who’ve adopted me as one of their own.”

Beyond Price: An Afghan Girlhood

Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

A young girl stood before a panel of adults in a government office in northern Afghanistan. It was not her first visit.

What is your name, and how old are you?
My name is Nazifa, and I am 12 years old.

Are you happy with your family?
Yes, I am. My mother is a kind woman, and my father is often away from us, working.

Why are you in the district governor’s office?
I presented a written complaint to get out of being married to an old man.

~~~

Afghan girl in purple dress

Nazifa, 12, spent nearly a year trying to get out of her arranged marriage.

How much is a 12-year-old girl worth?

To Nazifa’s grandfather, $2,000 sounded about right. This was the offer from the pair of community elders who approached him a year ago about arranging a marriage between his eldest granddaughter and a young boy from their rural village.

The three men, says Nazifa, showed her a picture of the boy and made her agree to the marriage despite her objections, which included her desire to continue school.

On the wedding night, she was taken to a room where an old man sat. She kissed his hands, the traditional demonstration of respect for elders by Afghanistan’s young people. And then she was made to sit next to him. She began to cry, harder and harder as she came to understand that this elderly man was her new husband ― that she had been deceived, and that there was nothing she could do. Finally, she fell quiet, and the man did as he wanted. He was 72 years old.

Nazifa’s grandfather left immediately after the wedding on a pilgrimage funded by Nazifa’s bride price.

Within two weeks, Nazifa’s husband began to abuse her.

The moment she saw an opening, Nazifa ran home to her mother and told her everything, and they submitted a complaint to district authorities. Eight months later, there was still no resolution.

ChildFund learned of Nazifa’s case through its Social Work Coaching project in Takhar province, which aims to improve child protection systems to address the needs of children at risk. In addition to working with local and national government authorities, the project trains social workers and community outreach workers on child rights, child development and protection, referrals and other social work services. ChildFund is one of several partner organizations in the project, which is supported by UNICEF.

After Nazifa told her story, the room fell quiet, her listeners struck by her tender age, her sweet face, her directness, her passion for education. Her questioner changed the subject.

~~~

Do you go to school?
Yes, when I am not coming to court.

When you go to school, does anyone bother you?
Yes, on the way to school and in class, they all laugh at me and say unpleasant words.

Do you want to continue going to school?
Yes. I will never stop going, even though it’s hard.

If you don’t succeed in getting out of this marriage, what will you do?
I am sure the government will decide in my favor. Otherwise, I can’t accept life with an old, disturbing man, and I will end my life somehow.

~~~

Nazifa was finally able to leave the marriage, and school is easier now, thanks to some support from social workers trained by ChildFund.

Authorities had no good answer as to why this case had taken so long, and there are many more such cases throughout Afghanistan due to the cultural breakdown following the country’s two decades of conflict. Social work is not really a formal profession in Afghanistan, but this is beginning to change as authorities recognize the need for it, thanks largely to awareness raised by ChildFund and others working to strengthen child protection systems in Afghanistan.

We work to expand people’s knowledge about the rights and worth of children, and we help protect as many children as we can from becoming victims.

Because a 12-year-old girl is priceless.

Building an India Where Women Count

By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Dusk was settling over a suburban neighborhood in southern India, but Stella Leethiyal wasn’t ready to go home. The 47-year-old teacher was busy visiting shanties to meet women and educate them about good parenting — the key to a child’s successful development.

Indian woman talks to a parent about her child

Stella, 47, works as an ECD teacher in a suburban area near Chennai.

Aside from teaching women about parenting, Stella also focuses on educating them about their individual rights and convincing their male partners to understand and respect the value of the women in their households. Stella, who works as a teacher at a ChildFund-supported early childhood development (ECD) center in Chennai, India, does this out of a desire to see her fellow women become aware and empowered.

“Personally, I have seen many setbacks faced by women in my locality since my childhood,” Stella says. “I have always dreamt of a society where women and men are treated equally in all aspects of life. My association with ChildFund India has given my dream a direction, and I have tried my best to achieve this goal.”

Currently, Stella works with children whose families often migrate to find work, a population that faces serious obstacles to a full education.

Before becoming an ECD teacher in 1997, Stella was a community mobilizer for ChildFund; her prime focus was educating and empowering women. Her efforts helped convince nomadic families to send their children to school for the first time.

Stella is very happy about her work, but she is dissatisfied with the general condition of women across the country. “People say India is now a powerful country,” she says, “But how can you be powerful when one section of your population is so weak?”

According to latest U.N. Human Development report, India is ranked 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. However, many people in India like Stella are working to improve the state of women and girls through education, health care, sanitation and political participation. The government also runs several programs aimed at empowering women.

In the past year, ChildFund India has reached out to more than 142,000 women and engaged them in various issues ranging from their health and sanitation to economic empowerment.

To assist women who wish to earn income, ChildFund India promotes women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) that manage microloans at a village level, which helps women become more self-sufficient. India has more than 5,600 such groups across the country, with 18,000 members.

ChildFund is also committed to helping youths become involved community members, and toward this goal, we support more than 700 clubs for boys and girls.

Teenage girl from India

Durgesh has led a campaign to stop child marriage.

Female youth clubs, also known as Kishori Samuha, have proven to be a major success in creating an informed and confident new generation.
Durgesh, 15, is a testimony to this success. A sponsored child from Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district, Durgesh led a campaign against child marriage and managed to bring the number of early marriages to almost zero in her community.

As a leader of her youth club, she generated great awareness about the ill effects of child marriage and managed to gain broad community support .

“Initially, it was very difficult for us to convince parents to say no to child marriage, which has been going on in our community since ages,” says Durgesh, who is in 10th grade. “But with the support and guidance from ChildFund India program staff, we continued our campaign for months. And we finally succeeded. Parents are now not in favor of getting their young daughters married. Rather, they are sending them to schools.”

Stella and Durgesh are two of hundreds of committed individuals in India who are giving hope to women across the country. They aspire to build a new India where women are respected and allowed to lead.

Women Pick Up the Pieces of War-Shattered Lives

By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Woven baskets, vases and hats made with multi-colored palm leaves are piled on a hall table as women go about their work in the Sri Lankan district of Jaffna.

Some women weave hats, while others work on baskets or bags. Some sit in chairs, but many prefer to sit on the floor. Now and then everyone has a break to chat with others nearby.

Jaffna, in the northernmost region of Sri Lanka, is highly populated and busy, but this production center is tranquil. Five women who work here are war widows, following the 26-year civil war that ripped apart the country.

Sri Lankan woman makes basket

Sopa, a war widow in Sri Lanka, weaves a basket at a production center in the Jaffna District. She was trained through ChildFund and a partner organization.

Sopa is a widow and has a 4-year-old son, Methayan, to support. After losing her husband, Sopa suffered psychologically and had to depend on her elderly parents for months, which made all of their lives more difficult. Coming to accept that her husband was gone, she started to think about how to feed Methayan and educate him.

This production center, which uses materials from local palmyrah trees, was started in 2011 through a partnership between ChildFund and a government board to help provide employment opportunities after the war ended in 2009. During the resettlement phase, 35 women were initially trained. Now the center employs 45 women between the ages of 18 and 40.

The woven products have a high demand in other countries. Every two weeks, a large truck comes to the center and picks up the craft items. The center has attracted the attention of many unemployed women in the region, mainly because they would not have to travel long distances or move away from home to find work. Since its start, the center has trained an additional 80 women.

The women working here have bigger dreams now. They hope to expand the business and provide employment opportunities to more women in the area.

After attending training, Sopa found a job she liked, and she is still available to Methayan, who stays with other family members at home a 10-minute walk away. She attends to his needs in the morning, goes home at lunch time to feed him and then returns home before dark. Sopa makes US$110 a month, and she can earn more if she weaves more pieces. With her income, she’s able to support herself and her son.

“It was devastating to lose my husband,” she says. “I lost all my hopes. I was suffering for months without doing anything. This job brought me some hope. Also, spending time with other women in the community here has helped me to forget about my problems. Now I want to educate my child and ensure a good future for him.”

Weaving a New Life in Uganda

By Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, our posts for the remainder of the week are dedicated to the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Ugandan woman at shop

Justine once struggled to feed her family.

Without an education, Ugandan mother Justine could only dream of being employed. Her family of five depended entirely on her husband’s income from driving people on his motorcycle. And yet, his income was too low to cover all their needs: food, medical care, clothing, housing and the children’s education.

When Justine heard about ChildFund in 2007, she enrolled her daughter, who soon received a sponsor. For Justine’s family, this was the beginning of a new life.

woman at sewing machine

Learning to sew has brought income and opportunity.

An opportunity arose through ChildFund and a local partner organization for Justine to learn how to make clothes. “I knew it was my opportunity to acquire a skill that would get me out of my helplessness,” she says. After the training, Justine received sewing machines, which have helped her family’s income.

The mother of three now makes a living by sewing sweaters and school uniforms that she sells in her shop, as well as training other women to sew.

womand displays clothing at shop

Justine makes and sells children’s school uniforms at her roadside shop.

“In the beginning, I made the sweaters and sold them from my house, but I had very few buyers,” she recalls. “So I was determined to save and get a shop by the roadside, which has enabled me to sell more.”

The income from her shop has helped Justine’s family pay school fees and also have enough money left over for a plot of land and construction materials to build their own house. Justine has also helped her husband buy two more motorbikes, which he rents to other drivers and has increased the family’s income. She is the chairperson of the local home visitors committee, a program that sends volunteers to the homes of ChildFund-enrolled children to make sure they are healthy, studying and happy. As chairperson, Justine mobilizes and leads the team.

“ChildFund’s impact on my life is more than just my financial independence,” Justine says. “ChildFund has given me a confidence I would never have known. I can now comfortably speak before many people. I’m also able to relate to people better and with ease, which wasn’t the case before. Most of all, I now share ideas with my husband, which has enabled my family’s progress.”

Tweets Help a Young Woman Return to School

Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia

When Mekdes was just 3 years old, her father passed away and her mother was unable to take care of her daughter on her own. So Mekdes went to live with her grandmother in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ethiopian teen

Mekdes at home in Addis Ababa.

Today, 14 years later, Mekdes should be enrolled in grade 10 at Ketchene Secondary School, but times have been tough in recent years.

Mekdes was making good grades and enjoying her classes. Then her grandmother lost her job—their only source of income. Mekdes was forced to drop out of school and start working before she completed the national high school leaving examination that would open the door to advanced education.

Fighting back tears, she explains her situation: “We have no income at this time for our living. We have no one to help us. Our lives [have] become strange and gloomy. We are passing the day without food and go to bed with hunger.”

Since dropping out of school, Mekdes worked as a hairdresser and a day laborer for a small company, but her real dream is to finish school and become a doctor.

Thanks to ChildFund’s International Women’s Day Twitter campaign, that dream now has a better chance of becoming reality.

In March, we asked our Twitter followers to post 200 tweets and retweets focused on girls and women during a four-day time period culminating on International Women’s Day. As an incentive for the awareness-building campaign, we would honor our Twitter followers by awarding a one-year scholarship to a deserving Ethiopian girl (one of the items available in ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog).

ChildFund’s Twitter followers surpassed the goal, unleashing 275 tweets like: “Secure girls = strong women,” and “Being a student makes a girl unavailable for marriage.”

Mekdes is the recipient of the scholarship gift. She plans to work during the day and take evening classes so that she can complete her secondary education.

“Now with the help I got from ChildFund, I will start to train in hair dressing and make money,” she says of her near-term goals. “For me, ChildFund is my life. My grandmom is also so happy with the chance I got. She cried first when she heard the news, delighted with the hope we get from ChildFund.”

Thank you, ChildFund Tweeps!

View From Afghanistan on International Women’s Day

by Julien Anseau, Regional Communications Manager, ChildFund Asia

Afghanistan is one of the toughest places in the world to be a woman. On International Women’s Day, we talk with ChildFund’s country director, Palwasha Hassan, about the plight of women in her war-torn country and how ChildFund is helping.

ChildFund Afghanistan's national director

Palwasha Hassan, ChildFund Afghanistan

Palwasha, what is the status of women in Afghanistan today?
There are many challenges to face as a woman. Every 30 minutes, an Afghan woman dies during childbirth. Life expectancy is only 45 years. Only 18 percent of girls age 15 to 24 can read and write. One in three Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence. And many women are forced into marriage.

Although there are encouraging signs of improvement such as women’s participation in activities outside the home and the number of girls enrolled in school, there’s still a long way to go. Discrimination, lack of education, domestic violence and poverty are a fact of life for many Afghan women.

What are the challenges in women’s education and getting girls to go to school?

Afghan girls studying

Afghan girls embrace learning. Photo: Leslie Knott

Only 40 percent of girls attend primary school, and only 15 percent go on to attend secondary school. Traditionally, there is little awareness in Afghanistan on the importance of girls’ education. Many poor families cannot support their daughters’ education; girls are expected to stay home and help with housework rather than attend school. Schools are also often far away. Security is also an issue. It’s not safe for parents to send their children to school.

Education, however, helps women claim their rights, and it is also the single most powerful way to lift people out of poverty. ChildFund recently surveyed children in Afghanistan, and girls tell us they want to learn; they want more and better schools for all children.

Girls learning to sew

Skills training is one component of ChildFund's work in Afghanistan. Photo: Leslie Knott.

Over the years, with support from UNICEF and the U.S. Department of State, ChildFund has trained teachers, provided educational materials to schools, run literacy classes, opened community libraries to promote reading and supported social mobilization efforts encouraging children to go to school. Particular focus has been on girls.

What is the situation regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan?
Although legislation has been passed, in reality, the implementation of women’s rights remains patchy. Many women in Afghanistan face physical, sexual and psychological abuse, forced marriage, trafficking, domestic violence and the denial of basic services, including education and health care.

With support from UN Women and the U.S. Department of State, ChildFund has trained parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize gender-based violence and promote women’s rights, as well as strengthen referral mechanisms so that women can seek help.

Can you tell us how else ChildFund is helping women in Afghanistan?

mother and child

One key priority is improving maternal and child health. Photo: Leslie Knott

We educate mothers on the importance of their children’s education, health, hygiene and nutrition. We train parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize child-protection issues. We have provided livelihood training and support to women for income-generating enterprises, including carpet weaving and tailoring so that they can support their families. We also provide reintegration support to internally displaced and refugee families, including the construction of shelter and wells. All told, our programs provide thousands of women and their families with the support they need to take greater control of their lives.

Looking ahead, what are ChildFund’s priorities in Afghanistan?
ChildFund’s priorities and expertise in Afghanistan lie in early childhood development, raising literacy rates and improving child protection. In addition, we are focusing on youth vocational and leadership skills development, gender-based violence and reintegration support to internally displaced people and refugee families.

As an Afghan woman, is there anything else you want to tell ChildFund supporters about your country and the women there?
ChildFund has worked in Afghanistan since 2001, assisting more than half a million children and family members. We operate in more than 150 communities within Badakshan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Nangarhar and Takhar. Yet, the needs of the Afghan people are still great. For sustainable development to happen in Afghanistan, there needs to be a long-term global vision for the country. Then, conditions will improve for women – and everyone.

Tweet With ChildFund on International Women’s Day

by Lee Steinour, Communications Assistant

Your tweets can help send a girl to school!

Starting today, March 5, and continuing through International Women’s Day on March 8 (5 p.m. EST), ChildFund is inviting its Twitter followers to tweet out on critical issues related to girls and women.

In developing countries, child marriage derails as many as 10 million girls a year from achieving their potential as women.

Lack of access to quality health care is another obstacle for girls and women who live in poverty.

And, in many countries, education for girls is a low priority or not available at all.

Girls in boarding school

Nanin'goi Girls' Primary and Boarding School, Mosiro, Kenya. Photo: Jake Lyell

At ChildFund, we believe the healthy development of girls is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty. When girls have a secure childhood, they grow up to be strong women who lead positive change in their communities.

To mark International Women’s Day, we’re asking ChildFund’s Twitter fans to help build awareness around issues critical to women by tweeting and retweeting posts.

Please use the hashtag #girls2women in each Twitter post. If we reach 200 tweets and retweets in four days, we’ll honor our Twitter followers by providing a one-year educational scholarship to a girl in one of ChildFund’s projects.

Invite your friends to get involved by retweeting your posts and creating their own woman- and girl-focused tweets.

Need help with tweet ideas?

How about answering the question: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Or, send out some of these suggested tweets:

  •  Secure girls become strong women #girls2women #IWD
  • An estimated 10 million girls are married annually before they reach 18 #girls2women #IWD
  • Girls under 15 are 5x more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. #girls2women #IWD
  • Help a girl fulfill her dream of completing her education#girls2women #IWD
  • Ensure girls have the foundation to become future leaders #girls2women #IWD

Happy tweeting, and remember to use the #girls2women hashtag. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

ChildFund Advances the Rights of Women in Afghanistan

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.

Afghanistan gender violence protection ChildFund

Community members gather to discuss protection of women and children.

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.

Childfund Afghanistan child protection

Training for members of Child Well-Being Committee.

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.

Afghanistan Childfund Gender-awareness training

Government official complete gender-awareness training.

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.”

Afghanistan ChildFund Literacy training for girls

A young woman attends a literacy class.

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.”

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