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Afghan Women's Leadership Program: Leadership Training for the Women of Afghanistan

05/01/2003

Report From V-Day Special Representative Hibaaq Osman and Program Consultant Eleanor LeCain

Acknowledgements

Our trip to Afghanistan came at a time when clouds of war hovered over the region. We heard reports of increased violence in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq was about to begin. Most of us in the delegation had a nagging feeling of uncertainty. We knew that something we had no control over was about to happen. Our decision to go as an organization was based on our commitment to the Afghan women. We wanted to be with the Afghan women at a time they were feeling abandonment. We wanted to stand with them in solidarity and friendship despite the danger. We are very glad we went. Our trip was both spiritually enriching and deeply moving.

The Leadership Program in Kabul would not have been possible without the help and trust of many wonderful women. The Honorable Habiba Sarabi, Minister of Women's Affairs in Afghanistan, offered unending support and made her staff and office accessible to us. Cheryl Ray, Adviser to the Minister of Women's Affairs, offered guidance and advice that contributed to the success of our workshop. Afifa Azim, head of the Afghan Women's Network, did a great job as co-facilitator of the workshop and helped mightily in its preparation. Prior to the workshop, she and her great assistant, Shuriya, brought together over thirty-five women's organizations to review the program. Afifa's wisdom, leadership, and unique skills helped the Afghan participants to open up and share deeply. Eleanor LeCain brought a wealth of experience to the workshop, her patience and incredible communication with the women brought everyone together and helped the participants to set and achieve goals. Eleanor designed the program and co-facilitated the workshop. Our gratitude goes to Troy, Paulo, Shamaya, Masunda and Jackie of the V-Day delegation, who took a chance and came along regardless of the danger.

This program would not have been possible without the generous support of the Global Fund and Mama Cash for trusting and understanding in this initiative. They understood that this was to support the efforts of the Afghan women on the ground rather than reinventing the wheel. Kavita and Ellen thank you.

Finally, a heartfelt thanks to the women of Afghanistan, whose courage in the face of extremely difficult circumstances inspires us all.

With deep appreciation and affection,

Hibaaq Osman, Special Representative to V-Day

Executive Summary:

In response to requests by the women of Afghanistan, V-Day organized an Afghan Women's Leadership Seminar in Kabul, Afghanistan. The purpose of the seminar was to provide the women of Afghanistan with an opportunity to come together, share their vision of a future without violence, and develop a plan of action on which they could work together to create that future. This seminar was part of V-Day's global campaign to end violence against women. It was the most recent in a series of V-Day visits supporting the women of Afghanistan.

The Leadership Seminar was held in Kabul on March 8-10, 2003 in celebration of International Women's Day. Over two hundred and fifty women attended the opening reception, and over seventy women participated in the lively two-day workshop. Together participants envisioned Afghanistan free of violence, identified the major problems blocking them, and developed plans of action to stop violence against women.

The women agreed to form on-going working groups to implement the plans they developed based on their highest priorities. The groups are as follows:

  1. A public awareness campaign to stop violence against women. This campaign will spread information about the rights that women already have under the Constitution and in Sharia law, as well as information about domestic violence and ways of stopping it.
  2. A women's petition for disarmament to call for the disarmament of the warlords and national peace.
  3. A campaign to increase women's political power. This campaign will aim to influence the Constitution and rules of election that are now being written; inform women about the election scheduled for 2004 and why it matters; encourage women to vote and to run for office; call for 25% of the elected representatives to be women; and support the tying of international aid to the participation of women in the reconstruction and running of the country.
  4. An initiative to provide public education to all girls and women. Work to increase the number of teachers and supplies for girls and women.
  5. A project to increase women's economic empowerment. Increase the opportunities for paid work for women. Having their own money will increase women's stature in their family and community, and give them an avenue for self-expression and contribution to their household and the greater society.

Background:

V-Day: There is an epidemic of violence against women across the globe. To address this, Eve Ensler founded V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day challenges people to envision a world without violence, and supports women organizing to create such a world. As the playwright of "The Vagina Monologues," Ms. Ensler has generated worldwide attention and excitement on this issue. In addition, the play and related activities have generated over $14 million. These funds are dedicated entirely to supporting the efforts of women at the grassroots level to stop the violence against women.

Afghanistan: One of the many countries where V-Day has been active is Afghanistan. The women of Afghanistan have endured extensive violence throughout the past 23 years of war including the Russian occupation, the recent US bombings, the rule of local warlords, and the lack of their human rights under the Taliban. In late 2001, V-Day was instrumental in organizing the Afghan Women's Summit for Democracy, a two-day global gathering of Afghan women held in Brussels December 4-5, 2001. Over 40 grassroots leaders, broadly representative of women in Afghanistan, took part in the Summit and issued the Brussels Proclamation, a document calling for significant portions of any international aid to be directed to projects benefiting women, and demanding full restoration of women's rights as citizens, including the participation of women in drafting new laws and a future constitution. The document addresses four central components of Afghan society - Education and Culture, Healthcare, Refugees and Human rights. The goal of the Summit was to bring the voices of the Afghan women into the international political discourse, ensuring that their message is heard and that women have equal say and rights in the new government. Following the Summit, a delegation of six Afghan women from the meeting carried their message to key political decision-makers around the world, including the United Nations, Congress, the State Department, European Parliament, and key media and cultural leaders.

The intention of V-Day is to support the women of Afghanistan in their efforts to stop violence against women in their country. To this end, V-Day sponsored another meeting in Kabul in March 2002. At this meeting, over eighty women addressed the question, "What are the critical needs of women" They were brimming with ideas. One of their main requests was for training in leadership.

In response to this request and to celebrate International Women's Day in 2003, V-Day returned to Afghanistan to sponsor an Afghan Women's Leadership Training. On March 7, 2003, V-Day met with over thirty-five heads of national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to review the agenda, to explain what the workshop is about, to explain why V-Day was doing this, and to learn more about what the local groups were doing in the country. The NGOs were also given a survey to give more detailed information about their organizations including how they started and what they expected from the planned workshop.

On Saturday, March 8, 2003, V-Day sponsored a reception celebrating International Women's Day at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Over 250 women participated in the very spirited event, filling two large rooms. The women spoke about the importance of unity, of working together.

  • One of the women who came from Kandahar province reported that they had trouble getting permission from their husbands to attend the meeting. Women who wished to attend the workshop could not attend because they did not have permission from their husbands. One woman is educated and works, while her husband has no education and no job, yet he told her she could not attend. Finally at the last minute he agreed to let her attend. All three women came with their husbands. Other women also could not travel without their "Mehram," a male escort such as a husband, brother, or son.
  • The Kandahar women met with other women in their community before coming to Kabul so the ideas of other women from Kandahar who could not attend would still be represented at our meeting. They ran through the agenda we had sent them. They discussed the problem of their husbands beating them, and asked what they could do to get out from under. "What if you just went anyway, without his permission" asked one. "I'm afraid of losing my children," the woman replied. Under the current law, if the children are older than nine, custody goes to the father, but if the children are younger than nine, custody goes to the mother. The man can take custody of the older children and the woman has no rights. So they decided one area they wanted to focus on was changing the custody laws, so they would not be afraid of losing their children. They also discussed the violence of men towards women, and decided to initiate an educational campaign about the issue, including vital information about women's legal rights. Even before the seminar officially began, it stimulated women taking action to improve their situation.
  • The day before the meeting, the two co-facilitators, Eleanor LeCain - consultant to V-Day - and Afifa Azim - Director of the Afghan Women's Network - met with the convener of the meeting, Hibaaq Osman - Special representative for V-Day - to finalize plans for the session. As they were reviewing the agenda in the hotel, the electricity went out. There was still some light in the hallway, so they moved the easel pads into the hallway and carried on. The experience was symptomatic of the challenges of living and working in Afghanistan, which is still in the early stages of reconstruction after the devastation of 23 years of war. The three met before and after each session throughout the workshop to discuss what worked and what needed improvement.
  • On Sunday morning, March 9, the Afghan Women's Leadership Training began. While thirty-five Afghan women had pre-registered, over seventy women came. Women were so eager to participate; the room was nearly full at 8:30am, thirty minutes before the program was scheduled to start. Being at the meeting was a treat for many women. Most women still must have a man accompany them when they go outside of the house. Participants included the Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs, women in the Loya Jirga (the national assembly), heads of organizations, teachers, lawyers, judges, doctors, journalists, university lecturers, other influential women leaders, and women who participated both in the 2001 Brussels summit and the V-Day 2002 Kabul Talks.

I. WELCOME AND INTRODUCTIONS

Afifa Azim, Eve Ensler and Hibaaq Osman opened the session with warm words of welcome and greetings from women around the world. "You survived and have stamina," said Hibaaq. "You have everything it takes to be a leader, you are leaders. We are not here to teach you what you already know, we are here to work with you and also learn from you. This seminar is building on what you are already doing. This seminar will strengthen our work together for peace and democracy."

Eve noted how much better the country feels this year than last. "V-Day is committed to stand in sisterhood with the women of Afghanistan spiritually, physically, and financially. You suffered deeply, yet kept hope for a better future alive. The women here are the strongest and feistiest on the planet! Women need to rise to power because they have the wisdom and instincts needed in the world. Women all around the world support the women of Afghanistan. This is our third conference for the women here: Brussels 2001, Kabul 2002, and now this 2003 program to encourage women's leadership."

The session was co-facilitated by Eleanor LeCain, consultant to V-Day, and Afifa Azim, head of the Afghan Women's Network. Afifa said that working together in unity with one voice we can change both government and practices in the community.

There was some animated discussion about how to handle the language situation, since participants spoke three different languages - Dari, English, and Pashtu. Dari is the national language of Afghanistan, but some of the women from different provinces wanted a translation in Pashtu to show respect for their culture, even though the Pashtu speakers also spoke Dari. After some discussion, we agreed that Dari would be the language of the session, with simultaneous translation into English for the international participants. The fact that this issue was acknowledged helped the Pashtu speakers feel included, respected. The language issue is reflective of the many ethnic differences that continue to divide the country and make unified action sometimes difficult.

We began with a round of introductions. Each woman said her name and one thing that has changed for her over the past year. Women spoke about the joys of greater freedom, of being able to work again, being able to walk without wearing the Burqa, being able to leave the house without having a man escort, being able to teach and have girls learn to read and write, being able to come back home after being refugees in other countries. "I feel I was let out of a cage!" said one woman.

Following are a few other comments women made about how their life changed over this past year:

  • "Last year, I did not expect this much peace, and I did not think I would be able to come to my country. Today I am in my country and I feel relaxed."
  • "Last year, my children were not able to go to school because they were busy weaving carpet. Now they are able to go to school. My dream has come true."
  • "During the Taliban regime, I was exiled from Afghanistan since I was working for women's rights and women's empowerment. Today I have the opportunity to be in my country and work with the Ministry of Women's Affairs."
  • "During the Taliban regime, I had to put on a Burqa and work hidden. Today I can work without any restrictions."
  • "I heard my national song for the first time."
  • " Last year, our organization could only have an office in Peshawar. Today we have the honor to work for Afghans not only in Pakistan but Afghanistan too."

II. ENVISIONING AFGHANISTAN FREE OF VIOLENCE

V-Day Founder and Artistic Director Eve Ensler led the women in envisioning Afghanistan free of violence against women and girls. "Imagine what that would look like, what would it feel likeHow would your life be differentBecause we are so accustomed to violence, it is hard to imagine life without it. Violence can be bombs dropping, or being hit with a hand, or not being allowed to do what you want to do. This is an exercise to break out of the cage, to picture ourselves outside the cage. Think, 'If there were no violence against women and girls, I would…' Women in Africa said, 'I would protect my body, and no one could take me.' Women in New York said, 'I could walk in the park at night and feel safe.' Women in Cairo said, 'My father and brother would not beat me up.' Women in Manila said, 'I could play with toys, and not be sold as a sex toy.' Be really honest about your lives. Imagine what it would be like if the threat of violence were not around you all the time. In your small group, each woman writes one line, and then one person will report from your group."

Women gathered in small groups to share their visions, then reported back to the whole. Some of the visions were powerful, as the following examples demonstrate. "If there were no violence...

"I would not be witness to women killing themselves by burning."
"I would be able to travel on my own, and to go to far places."
"I would be able to have a powerful position in government."
"I could leave the house and work without fear."
"I would never be used as a toy by the men."
"I would not be beaten by my in-laws."
"I would not allow my daughter to be married at an early age."
"I would not allow a forced marriage, my daughter could choose who she wants to marry."
"I would be able to marry who I want to marry."
"Widows would be able to choose their second husbands, not the family."
"I would not allow the exchange of women to be used to resolve conflicts."
"I would not allow my husband to take a second and third wife."
"I would make education for girls compulsory."
"I would be counted as a human being, not as a woman or man."
"I could work late out of my house and not be beaten when I come home, and not questioned about where I went."
"I would make decisions for myself, and make my own plans."
"I would own my own house."
"I would not be thought of as property, but as a human being."
"I would not be sold as property."
"I would not be the servant of human beings, but only the servant of God."
"I would be free to work for the benefit of society."
"The birth of a baby girl would be cause of joy, not sadness."
"Women could live alone by themselves."
"Women in villages could get an education."
"I would be able to send my daughter to university."
"I would be able to continue my education."
"I could go abroad for studies."
"I would be a trader and travel all over the world."
"I would have the right to divorce." [Another woman commented that this is already allowed in Islamic law, and there is a proper process to go through; we need to raise awareness about rights that already exist.]
"My ideas would be respected in the family."
"I could do anything I wanted by my own choice."
"I would be able to buy a bicycle and ride it."
"I would drive, have my own car, and drive children to school and myself to work."
"I would have no obstacle in completing my education."
'I would participate in the reconstruction, serve my country."
"I would live without fear."
"I would be free to not wear the Burqa."
"I would have financial independence (now if I spend money, my husband asks, why did you spend money on a tailor)"
"I would be happy and free. My heart would stop from happiness!"

There was excitement around envisioning a life free of violence. Some women commented on what a gift it was to have an opportunity to imagine such a life, since the country has been at war for 23 years. They wanted to publish these visions on the Afghan Women's Network website.

Each group prioritized their most important needs and wishes. Then we clustered similar ideas together. The top four priorities of needs and wishes were as follows:

  1. Stop the violence. As one group said, "This is our first and only priority. If we have this, everything else is possible. If we don't have this, everything else is just a dream."
  2. Compulsory education for all.
  3. Women have the right to choose their own husband/ no forced marriage.
  4. Equality in decision-making.

The sharing of their vision of a life beyond violence was honest and brilliant. Our challenge is, now that you see it, to make it happen! To that end, we identified the barriers that are keeping us from a life free from violence, and some of the opportunities that can help us get there.

III. IDENTIFYING BLOCKS TO HAVING A LIFE FREE OF VIOLENCE

We invited the women to identify what was blocking them from having a life free of violence. They met in small groups for intense discussions of their problems and opportunities. Upon reconvening, representatives from each group spoke about the problems and solutions that their group had identified. Similar issues were clustered together. Then they identified the top five problems by each woman getting three votes. When the votes were counted, the women had selected five major problems as follows:

KEY PROBLEMS (prioritized)

  1. Security (28 votes)
  2. Lack of Education, illiteracy (23 votes)
  3. Poor economic situation (18 votes)
  4. Negative aspects of culture and tradition (16 votes)
  5. Lack of awareness of women's rights in the Constitution and Sharia law (15 votes)

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS (not prioritized)

  • General disarmament
  • Bring those who violate our rights to justice
  • Establish literacy classes for women and girls as well as men, make education compulsory for all
  • Raise awareness of existing rights through media and mullahs/mosques (for example, under Islamic law a mullah has to ask a woman three times "Do you want to marry this man")
  • Influence the Constitution that is now being written to ensure it includes strong rights for women (include practical points, not just good rhetoric)
  • Allow and encourage women to participate in production in society
  • Find jobs for women
  • Encourage women to vote in the election next year
  • Include more women in decision making positions in government
  • Hold gender workshops for women and men to understand issues
  • Consider qualifications for a job, not what ethnic group the person belongs to
  • Work for our country, not just for ourselves
  • Learn from those who have more experience

We invited the women to evaluate the first day of the workshop. They wrote comments in Dari, which were quickly translated within an hour by a team of four hard working Afghan volunteers.

We then concluded the first day by saying tomorrow we would focus on solutions, and inviting women to think about solutions overnight.

The evaluations were very thoughtful. Most women were delighted with the workshop. The most frequent comment was that the seminar was excellent, impressive, and outstanding. One woman said it had been her dream for years that women would come together and decide what needed to be done, and this seminar was a dream come true. Another woman said the training was fantastic, and recommended that it be done in every village in the country. Many appreciated the opportunity to share ideas with other women in the country and women from outside the country. Several said they wanted to hear more from the Western women about leadership.

Day 2, Monday, March 10, 2003

IV. QUALITIES OF LEADERSHIP

In response to the requests for more direct discussion of leadership, we began day two with that discussion. Eve Ensler invited each woman to come up with an image, a word, or a color on what leadership means to her. "Women think differently of leadership. I urge you to be creative and outrageous and specific to yourself. Go deep, and see what leadership means to you."

As we went around the circle, women came up with great images. Afifa said she thought of the color blue, which is warm and comforting, a more relaxed feeling. Eve then shared a story about the bracelet she was wearing. She said she felt moved to wear it that day, and remembered being in a shop in the Taos, New Mexico a month ago where the person said, "You have to have this bracelet." The blue stone on the bracelet was from Afghanistan, and it was made in Mexico by Native Indian women.

One woman spoke of leadership being like birds, where the front bird will lead the way and break the wind for the others, and then when she got tired, she would fall back and another bird would take the lead.

Many participants spoke about how women are leaders in the house as mothers, and they can take those skills and lead in society as well. "A woman is a leader to guide the children to a bright future," said one. "A woman makes the children who build the future," said another. "A woman pushes the cradle with one hand, and leads the family with the other."

"A leader should be like a mother, not a dictator, but a communicator."
"A leader is like a mother who knows her family, knows who can do what best. A mother helps keep balance, and draw on those who are able to do what is needed to be done. Leaders decide who can do what."
"As a mother does not discriminate between her sons and daughters, leaders in society should do the same."
"A leader is not from a particular region, but a resident of the world, the planet."
"A leader brings unity among people. She helps each person feel a responsibility to the other."
"Leadership is like a circle. The point in the center of the circle is a leader, with the rings coming out to the circle being equal. A leader should keep balance, keep everyone in the circle."
"God gave a kind heart to women. A woman is never in favor of war."
"A leader should bring criminals to justice, and encourage people who are oppressed."
"A leader encourages those who are doing good things."
"A leader is out in front, always the first to take action, beginning with herself."
"Woman is a gift from Allah. She brings justice and support for all, without discrimination."
"A leader is a bridge, connecting all people."
"The best leader is one who does what they say others should do."
"The best leaders don't think 'I am in charge,' but rather, 'I am a mother for all.'"
"What a leader wants for herself, she wants for others."
"A leader does not think of power all the time, but thinks of how she can be helpful. She thinks of society like a family. If there is a problem, she helps to solve it. She does not misuse power for her own gain."
"A leader should be able to listen well."
"A leader should be honest. She should work in a way that all people trust her."
"A leader should not discriminate among groups."
"A leader earns the support of those she leads. I work with orphans and widows. To guide them, I need their support."
"A leader is empathetic, she can feel what those she leads feel."
"We can educate children. We can encourage our sons to stop violence against women.
"A leader gives credit to others when they do the work. That's how they make friends who will be with them."
"I am proud to be in a room full of leaders, proud that Afghanistan has this many leaders, just in this room. My image of leadership is the sun, which brings warmth to the world."
Hibaaq Osman said, "A leader has compassion for the people she represents, and is accountable to them. Every day she learns a lesson. A woman in a leadership position is walking in a minefield and she learns to walk carefully and deliberately. A leader is one that understands that there is no leadership out there, but within you, look and you will find it. Lose "I" and think "we."

Jerri Lynn Fields, Executive Director of V-Day, said, "Leadership is like a ripple, one person starts something and then creates ripples throughout the water."

Jacky Tomlinson: "Act in a manner that feels right. My father taught me, 'No one can take your integrity away from you. They can take your clothes, your house, even your life, but they cannot take your integrity.'"

Shamaya Gilo: "I started an organization on women and leadership. When we asked women about their leadership style, most of them didn't see themselves as leaders. But when we pointed out they influence others, they agreed. Mothers make good leaders; they care for and help others, grow with them. Women are focused both on keeping relationships and achieving goals. They maintain internal strength to stay on the path, to walk the minefield. It requires courage, because many things will try to knock you off your path."

Eve offered her reflections on leadership. "Leaders should claim victories. They should not think of what hasn't worked. Have a great sense of humor. Leaders are often attacked, and humor can help you get through it. Also, humor makes it more fun! Trust what you know and see. Have the courage to say it."

Eleanor said her image of leadership is a shining star, since a leader is like a beacon of light, shining steady, showing the way. "A leader is someone who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way." She explained that was the thinking behind the design of this workshop. "We envision a society free of violence, identify the obstacles to having that society, and develop a plan of action to overcome the obstacles and create the society we want. We are not so much talking about leadership as we are being leaders."

V. DEVELOPING A PLAN OF ACTION FOR EACH CHALLENGE

We reviewed the top five problems the women had identified to creating an Afghanistan free of violence against women. On reviewing them, we agreed that adding a sixth problem was necessary to address all the others - few women are in positions of political power from which they could influence and shape decisions.

We restated the key problems as positive challenges, ranked as follows:

  1. Increase security
  2. Provide education for girls and women
  3. Improve women's economic situation
  4. Change the negative aspects of culture and tradition
  5. Increase awareness of women's rights in the Constitution and Sharia law
  6. Increase the political power of women

The groups were given a common framework for developing their action plan:

  • State your overall goal;
  • Develop one or more approaches for meeting that goal; for each approach, identify the obstacles and opportunities, resources available and resources needed;
  • Identify 2-3 women willing to take leadership in implementing the plan; and
  • Determine your immediate next steps.

Each of the small groups worked intensively for two hours. The participants focused like laser beams in their working groups, and developed the following plans of action.

INCREASE SECURITY

GOAL: Bring peace and security to all

APPROACHES:
Disarmament
Eliminate warlords
Eliminate ethnic discrimination

PROBLEMS:
Armed people are ruling in villages
Central government does not have influence around the country
Joblessness
Ethnic divisions, e.g. some people think "All Pashtuns are bad."

OPPORTUNITIES:
Establish strong national army
Raise awareness of robbery and violation of human rights

RESOURCES:
Intervention of UN and International Security Assistance Force
Attention of the government

NEEDS:
Ask the international community for more support
Train professionals

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Have self-confidence, don't worry about risks
  2. Make others understand the role of women in security. Women are a symbol of peace. At home, women settle fights between brothers, it can be the same in society.
  3. Push the UN to increase the ISF for increased security in rural areas.
  4. Have women travel, talk with their own communities and with rural women, encourage what they are doing and guide them. Local people know what is most effective in their area, e.g. what language to use. Include a budget for travel to rural areas.
  5. Find interested women in each village, known as good teachers for reading and for teaching the Koran. Explain to them the importance of security. Go to influential women.

PROVIDE EDUCATION FOR GIRLS AND WOMEN

GOAL: Improve education, including eliminate illiteracy

APPROACHES:
Increase awareness of the importance of education
Educate girls and women
Encourage Afghans and others abroad to come here and work
Make education compulsory for all

OPPORTUNITIES:
Recent changes
Interest of the international community
Resources becoming available
A new constitution is being written now
Awareness among people of the importance of education is higher now

OBSTACLES:
Security all over the country
Lack of professional staff to teach
Lack of schools and equipment
Fanaticism, local fanatics
Economic problems
Even now, some people do not want women to learn

RESOURCES:
Support of international community
Support of people all over the world

NEEDS:
Increase in education budget
More people trained as teachers
More schools and educational supplies

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Use Afghan Women's Network as a bridge between people and government
  2. Organize meetings with donors, attract their attention
  3. Work in solidarity with the Ministry of Education
  4. Establish an awareness group within communities that discusses the importance of education
  5. Survey the whole country about what is really happening with education, find out how many schools we have, and where they are
  6. Go to opinion leaders in every place and ask them to talk about the importance of education
  7. Support the Ministry of Education efforts including for day care centers
  8. Launch a national campaign for literacy
  9. National service should be required for women as well as men, and include teaching literacy not just being a soldier

IMPROVE WOMEN'S ECONOMIC SITUATION

GOAL: Improve women's economic situation

APPROACHES:
Create more jobs for women
Encourage women to create their own businesses

POSSIBILITIES:
Increase in the government's economic power
Increase in business of the interests of women
Encourage the international community to support women in business
Some women have money, can use to empower themselves through income generating programs
Support micro-credit programs

PROBLEMS:
Women don't have enough access to business
Women don't have enough access to resources
The government does not support women strongly enough
Lack of equipment, e.g. to farm
Lack of chances to work
Too many imports, not enough production here
Need water for irrigation to farm and to drink
Have a lot of fruit, but they rot, we need a way to keep them from rotting

RESOURCES: NGOs

NEEDS:
Trainings for women
Encourage women to create factories and business, e.g. orange jam factory
Find markets for women-produced goods

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Work with men and women on how they can improve their own situation
  2. Make people aware of the benefits of economic projects
  3. Organize workshops to help women and men, raise awareness in gatherings such as weddings and funerals
  4. Go to places to see the real situation, address the needs of people more than our own ideas.
  5. Establish poultry farms and cooperatives. Build different systems to replace the factories destroyed by war. E.g., the raisin cleaning factory was destroyed, but we can help people rebuild
  6. Get money to do this
  7. Give everyone in the project a particular responsibility
  8. Analyze our activities, see what is effective, learn what works and what doesn't, learn from mistakes
  9. Get money from the government or donors to set up a factory or way of earning money, then pay the money back
  10. Encourage women to earn money from what they do, e.g. handicrafts can be income generating projects
  11. Tax imports to encourage local production

CHANGE THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF CULTURE AND TRADITION

APPROACH: The most important thing we can do is educate, especially the religious leaders, and the people. We can conduct workshops, hold meetings, and sponsor conferences. We can increase awareness among people through mass media, discussion, mosques, schools, and elders in the community. We can increase the literacy level.

RESOURCES: Support from the outside world and political support

NEEDS: More literacy programs. Women don't know the law. Through education we empower them.

ALSO People not following the rules of the Constitution should be punished.

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Take the first step by changing ourselves, then our families, then our neighbors. For example, don't allow your daughter into a forced marriage.
  2. Establish development projects in village districts and rural areas. Determine what needs to be changed. Then raise awareness through the development projects.
  3. Use possibilities in our own communities. Find supportive people in local communities, and get their active support.

INCREASE AWARENESS OF WOMEN'S RIGHTS IN THE CONSTITUTION AND SHARIA LAW

GOAL: Raise awareness about women's rights and laws in society

APPROACHES:
Use the media to inform women of their rights under the constitution and Sharia law.
Change the mentality of society and the way of behaving

POSSIBILITIES:
Organize workshops and seminars, use mass media
Encourage young people to take part in legal awareness campaign
All local and international lawyers should get together to organize

PROBLEMS:
Lack of security
Low level of economy. We need to lift the economy of families and society, once this is achieved, we will have less security problems.
Fanatics who are closed minded, block opportunities for women to participate

RESOURCES:
Local and international lawyers who have an interest in this area
Many professionals both male and female would be willing to help with this

NEEDS:
A place for this committee to gather
Financial resources
Access to the internet

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Get all the trainers together, help them train others. Ask them to run workshops on the rights of women under the Constitution and Sharia. Identify the main issues they will focus on, prepare materials for the trainers, find places for trainers to hold workshops.
  2. Increase communication with NGOs and students/schools. Discuss with them, get agreement to support outreach on legal education. Ask them to get people to a workshop.

INCREASE THE POLITICAL POWER OF WOMEN

GOAL: to increase the political power of women, place more women in decision-making positions.

APPROACH:
Develop awareness of the importance of politics in the community.
We must get beyond the rule of the gun.

OBSTACLES:
Women don't want to be involved. They are afraid to be in politics.
Illiteracy, low level of education
Fundamentalists block women's participation in politics
Women's economic situation is low, they are afraid to take part

OPPORTUNITIES:
Recent change in government, new government.
Increase in women NGOs both national and international.
23 years of war shows us how important political awareness is
Women refugees saw how important politics is, learned many things they can share
International community is paying attention and cares
There is a window of peace for the country

NEEDS:
Disarmament
Establishment of a national army and police to guarantee security of women and men
Increased educational level and literacy among women and men
Encourage women to be more economically self sufficient

RESOURCES:
Media and other sources can be used to increase awareness and educational level of women
Women in decision-making positions now can help other women

NEXT STEPS

  1. Increase political awareness among women
  2. Collect educational material useful for starting political action
  3. Establish coordination between international organizations and women and our efforts
  4. Encourage women who are selected locally and support them to move forward. Loya Jirga women were elected, but the women were afraid. Find them and encourage them.
  5. Support women who are active politically through the media, at the national and international level, e.g. magazines can explain who women are and what they do, and programs on television and radio can pay attention to political women
  6. Get the support of men for this work; they are leading society for the time being

Afifa summarized the meeting. "Each group can take 2-3 points and really work on them. These have come from us - our problems, our pain, and our ideas on how to change. Let's follow this plan for one year. See how our friends can help us. We have seen possibilities and problems. Now we can take action, practical steps. One thing that appeared in all our working groups was the importance of awareness. That is the main umbrella for all our work. We can use mass media, organize workshops, and make posters for illiterate women, too. We can bring change through awareness at every level - family, community, government policy. All our actions are heading to end violence against women. We can have these working groups in Afghan Women's Network to end violence against women, in our houses, in our streets, and in our society."

After some discussion, the Afghan women decided to have five main working groups to develop and implement the plans that emerged from the workshop. The groups are as follows:

  1. A public awareness campaign to stop violence against women
    • Spread information about the rights women already have in the Constitution and in Sharia law
    • Explain how widespread domestic violence is, the damage it causes, and the benefits to stopping. Show other ways men can resolve issues, including role-playing on other choices they can make about behavior.
  2. A women's petition for disarmament, including a call for more International Security Forces to keep the peace beyond Kabul
  3. A campaign to increase women's political power
    • Influence the Constitution and rules of election now being written
    • Inform women of the upcoming election, why it matters, and encourage women to vote and to run for office
    • Call for 25% of the elected representatives to be women
    • Support the tying of international aid to the participation of women in the reconstruction and running of the country
  4. An initiative to provide public education to all girls.
    • Increase the number of teachers and supplies for the 3 million girls who currently want to go to school.
  5. A project to increase women economic empowerment.
  • Increase the opportunities for paid work for women. Explore possibilities in micro-enterprise, e.g. bringing their clothing to market. Having their own money will increase women's stature in their family and community, and give them an avenue of self-expression and contribution.

Eve Ensler said, "Clearly you are the real leaders of Afghanistan! I am excited about your action plan, and offer $15,000 to support you implementing it."

VI. CLOSING

The seminar concluded with rousing words of inspiration. Affifa Azim spoke of the importance of working together. The Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs underscored that point saying, "With unity, all things are possible." Hibaaq Osman encouraged the women to build alliances with each other to reach our shared goals of democracy, human rights and justice. "Use this Leadership Seminar as an opportunity to galvanize collaborative efforts to end violence against women." At the end of the seminar, V-Day made a very generous commitment of support to eight different women's organizations totaling about $60,000, including $15,000 to implement the action plans created from the Leadership Seminar.

Eleanor LeCain said what an honor it had been to be with the women. "We know you and the other women of Afghanistan have suffered greatly. We admire your strength and courage. You are an inspiration to us and to the world." She shared her vision that had come during a morning prayer. "I saw the spirit of God moving through the women and shifting Afghanistan from a symbol of fear and violence to a symbol of love and respect." One of the women gave a heartfelt response: "Thank you for coming and doing this workshop. We are your Afghan sisters. If you ever need help, come to us and we will help you." It was an emotional moment, and many were moved to tears.

That evening, we had a dinner celebrating what we had accomplished together. The woman who agreed to sing at the dinner apologized if her voice was not great, but she had not sung publicly for about seven years since singing was banned by the Taliban. It was a fitting end to our seminar, a symbol of the women of Afghanistan reclaiming their voices.

OTHER EVENTS

  • While in Afghanistan, the V-Day delegation participated in several other events celebrating International Women's Day. One event was the celebration of the opening of a school for girls in Kabul. The school was organized by Hassina Sherjan, Executive Director of Aid Afghanistan, as a remediation program for girls 12-16 years old. Ms. Sherjan explained how the Taliban prohibited education of girls and women, but some teachers taught underground anyway, risking their lives to do so. One of the underground teachers, Fawzia Walli, participated in the event. She taught three times a day, teaching seventy students. Her daughter was beaten by the Taliban. But she survived, and now she is a head teacher. Fawzia had the students wrap their book in the Koran, so the Taliban thought they were coming for religious studies. She had them come only one at a time so they would not arouse suspicion. But they were discovered. As one student explained, "When the Taliban came, one student jumped in the well, another jumped into the chicken house. They beat up our teacher."

    The so-called Taliban "schools" were really fundamentalist indoctrination programs. Since girls missed six years of school, they need remediation programs to make up for lost time. Three million girls want to go to school. 48% of them are at the 1-3 grade level. The students are hungry to learn.

    When asked about her plans for the future, one girl said, "Last year I wanted to be a journalist. Now I want to become President." Eve spoke with her and gave her a V necklace, made by women in Kenya. "V means Victory over Violence," explained Eve. "You will be a great leader of Afghanistan some day, I feel it."

  • One of the participants in our seminar was Sadiqa Basiri who works with AWN. Sadiqa was born in Afghanistan, moved to Pakistan when she was four years old, and returned to Afghanistan permanently six months ago. She visited in 1994 and met with her cousins. They asked her, "What is a schoolWhat does it look likeWhy do you go to schoolWhat does a teacher do" Now that there is more freedom in Afghanistan, she has come home to open a school in the village of Goda in the province of Wardak, three hours drive from Kabul. She started a class with thirty-five girls. She told them to arrive at 8 am for class. They arrived at 6 am wearing their best clothes. Sadiqa's dream is that in one year, each village has a class for girls all across the country. She is working hard to make that dream a reality, and is looking for teachers and educational supplies.

    The government celebrated International Women's Day with gathering of thousands of people. The Minister of Women's Affairs, Habiba Surabi, spoke about the progress in the past year. "The government priority is peace and reconstruction. Two years ago, there was no such expectation. Terror reigned. With the help of the international community, we got rid of terrorism. We are very grateful to those who helped us get rid of them." The minister also said "Freedom means freedom from being a slave. A woman should have the right to choose a life partner for herself, and have the right to live alone." Sima Samar, Minister of Human Rights, said, "There will not be peace and security in a country if rights are not considered important. We should respect the rights of all people in Afghanistan."

APPENDIX ONE: AGENDA

1. WELCOME
2. SHARE OUR STORIES
3. DISCUSS LEADERSHIP QUALITIES
4. ENVISION AFGHANISTAN FREE OF VIOLENCE
5. IDENTIFY THE MOST IMPORTANT CHALLENGES
6. DEVELOP A PLAN OF ACTION FOR EACH CHALLENGE
7. EVALUATION AND CLOSING