From The Staff
In my point of view, there are two Afghanistans. The United Nations sees one Afghanistan that is progressing and developing. Yet there is another Afghanistan that the international community does not see. It is violent, unstable and in many ways very scary for women. And that is why it is absolutely critical to continue to be fully engaged in Afghanistan. We have heard some very good news from my country. A record number of women will be part of the Parliament. But we must also recognize the many challenges women face. We, Afghans, and the international community must close the gap between the two Afghanistans to bring true democracy, security and peace all over the country.
Former Afghanistan Country Director Sweeta Noori's Address to the UN Security Council, October 2005 — Download PDF.
Greetings for a happy New Year!
As you may know, Women for Women International — Afghanistan opened its doors with six staff members in Qalai Fatullah Khan, north of Kabul, in October 2002 to meet the basic needs of socially excluded women survivors of war in and around the capital. At the time, we were the only international, non-profit organization focused solely on supporting women in the city. With very limited resources and a small office compound, the program managed to reach nearly 1,000 women in just three short months, bringing great change to their social and financial status and a more stable existence for their families. Women for Women International — Afghanistan also began to provide rights awareness and leadership education, literacy, and vocational skills training at this time, paving the way for the participants’ sustainable future in the difficult post-war period.
Providing these services for women in Kabul was groundbreaking. It is such a complicated society here in Afghanistan, where women traditionally experience significant family pressure and are not given much opportunity to participate in these types of activities. At times, it has been very difficult for my staff to overcome some of the conservative traditions in order to work with women in the community and meet their needs. But, over time we have managed to gain the confidence of our program participants — and their families — so the women can access our much-needed services. Trust between program participants and our staff has allowed for improved implementation of the program as well as expansion, which has been met with great support from Afghan women.
In 2004, Women for Women International — Afghanistan’s program expanded significantly and is now operating in other villages and provinces outside of Kabul with more than 2,100 participants in four districts and 11 main villages. We now provide services to women in the Bagrami District in Kabul and Qalai Shada, a village west of Kabul City, where women are extremely excluded from society and don’t have access to any economic opportunity. We have also expanded to the rural provinces of Parwan and Wardak, where women and their families are isolated from many of the programs and services provided in Kabul.
Rights Awareness and Leadership Education
Each woman in the Sponsorship Program participates in bi-weekly rights awareness and leadership education sessions led by our local trainers. Through these sessions, we played a significant role in the political life of Afghan women during the recent historic presidential election. Women for Women International — Afghanistan partnered with the Afghanistan Ministry of Women’s Affairs to provide voter education to women through our rights awareness training sessions; nearly 2,000 of our program participants registered to vote for the very first time. In the Syed Abad District in Wardak Province, women culturally were not allowed to come out of their compound to participate in any social or political matters. We placed special emphasis on this district to increase women’s participation in the national elections. As a result, an amazing 757 women voted. In fact, it was very surprising to us and to the local people that women played a greater role in the election than men — only 625 men voted.
One woman in particular also told our program staff that she decided not to sell her voter registration card to a local warlord — for as much as $150 — when pressured to so. And, when she found out that her neighbor was going to sell her voter card, she talked to her about the importance of women’s right to vote and convinced her not to sell her card as well. We expect women to continue to play a great role in the upcoming parliamentary election in our target areas.
Vocational Skills Training
As they receive their sponsorship funds, women also learn skills through our vocational skills training program so they can increase their daily incomes. They also participate in a business management course to enhance their skills and help them run their businesses properly. When women are evaluated as they graduate from the program, they tell us that the vocational skills training had a great impact in changing their lives.
In 2004, the program succeeded in providing skills to almost 2,000 women in 2004 in nontraditional skills (those typically dominated by men) such as jewelry making, shoe making, hand bag making, rug weaving, kilim weaving, tailoring, and embroidery, as well as bakery and beauty parlor skills. In 2005, we plan to expand our vocational skills training programs to include more agricultural-based activities to benefit women in the more rural areas in Wardak and Parwan provinces. Traditionally, women have always contributed to home-based agri-businesses, as Afghanistan is a country dominated by rural society. We are developing trainings in poultry-raising, food preservation and other areas to provide women with additional skills they can use to benefit their families.
Microcredit Loan Disbursement
In 2004, Women for Women International — Afghanistan launched its microcredit lending program for graduates of the Sponsorship Program and other women who qualify for loans through the program. As of December 2004, we distributed $100,000 in loans to 600 clients; the average loans is $US 166. In 2005, we will continue to expand the number of women we serve through our lending program.
Many of the women who have received the loans are interested in starting or expanding an agri-business; the loans will fund activities such as buying and raising a cow or chickens to sell milk or eggs in the market, or cultivating and selling vegetables. There are also a variety of creative, non-agricultural businesses as well. For example, one woman is using her loan to start a soap-making business, a skill she learned while she was a refugee in Pakistan. Another is opening a small shop, where she and her son will sell the handmade shoes she has been making for the past 13 years.
As Country Director of the program in Afghanistan, I get to see every day the successes of the women who participate in the program. I wish I could share them all with you — here is one of the stories I felt was most inspiring in 2004:
Tahmina, a 17 year old woman from Qalai Shada, Kabul, is one of Women for Women International’s former participants who is now trying to change the lives of other socially excluded women. In August of 2000, Tahmina was at home with her family when a group of men demanded to enter her home. After entering, they shot and killed her father and brother; to this day, Tahmina and her mother don’t know who the men were or why their family was targeted. They were left alone with no way to support themselves and no hope for the future. Tahmina, in grade 11 and nearly finished with her schooling, was forced to drop out in order to find work.
Tahmina joined the Sponsorship Program in late 2003. With the funds she received from the program, she enrolled in English and computer training courses. She quickly learned English and completed three computer courses, making her eligible for many of the new jobs being offered by international agencies. In fact, Tahmina recently applied for the job as a translator at Women for Women International, and her skills were so impressive that we hired her! She will now be translating many of the letters that sponsors will write to their sisters in 2005.
As Country Director, on behalf of my colleagues, and upon constant request of the program participants to give their thanks for the support at this difficult time, I appreciate your support for these and other socially excluded women and wish you more success in your future.Warm regards,
Sweeta Noori, Former Afghanistan Country Director