Stories From Women
Pashton is a 35 year old widow who lost her husband in the war. She is now the single mother of six children; three sons and three daughters. Before Pashton was busy as a tailor but experienced countless economic difficulties. Pashton was introduced to the Woman for Women office and now feels happy because she is once again an active woman in the community. Pashton is working with the Safi Apparel Corporation and is discovering new tailoring skills. Pashton is very intelligent and a diligent worker. She is so thankful for Women for Women International. Pashton says "I had many difficulties and now by the grace of Allah have few. I am taking my 75 dollar salary from Safi Apparel Corporation in the merciful Allah because now my life condition is better then previous". She is able to send her six children to school and is so grateful to WWI for providing her with this unprecedented opportunity of working at the Safi Apparel Corporation.
Shamail is a 30 year old woman who has three children. Before enrolling with WFWI, Shamail was a housewife but now has the freedom to go outside her house and participate in WfWI Right Awareness, Business and Skill Trainings, and learn more about her rights as a woman, worker, and mother in society as well as the rights of her children. After a few months WFWI introduced her to the Safi Apparel Corporation. Shamail passed the interview and numerous tests Safi Corporation administrated and then worked as a trainee operator. After three months, Shamail was hired as an full time employee. Her salary is 65 USD per month. Shamail is very happy to now be an active woman in her society. Shamail enjoys helping her husband with the family expenses and sending her children to school. Other women are inspired by Shamail and are stepping into the work force. She is very grateful to WFWI and the Safi Corporation. Shamail says, "WfWI paved the way for me to succeed and find the opportunity to work."
Zia Gul is a 27 year old mother of four children; three sons and one daughter. Her husband works as Ragman. Zia Gul was uneducated and a housewife but through WFWI was offered the unique opportunity to learn about women rights, health, business, and the rights of children from WWI training programs. WWI introduced Zia Gul to Safi Apparel Corporation and now Zia Gul is busy as a tailor, earning 65 dollars a month. Zia Gul is happy to now economically support her family. She has faced many difficulties in her life but now feels relieved because of the sustainable income Safi Company awards her every month. She hopes that WWI will expand their activities so more women can be helped. Zia Gul thanks Women for Women International and says "Allah keeps Women for Women International successful so that more and more women of Afghanistan can be helped in the right way."
Afghan women are determined for their daughters to have more and better choices in their lives. Noor was just 12 years old when she was married to a man 28 years her senior. Today, at age 35, she has nine children. Four are daughters, and Noor is determined they will have a different kind of future. Through Women for Women International’s vocational training program Noor has learned skills that will help her earn extra income, which she plans to use to pay for her daughters’ school expenses.
In 2008, a total of 4,434 Afghan women enrolled in Women for Women International’s yearlong sponsorship program. Women receive letters and financial support from their sponsors. They meet in groups of 20 for rights awareness training facilitated by local women. They learn to read and write. Some are trained as health and traditional birth attendants. Women entrepreneurs can learn vocational and business skills and have access to small loans which they pay back as their projects grow.
Like Noor, most women begin the program illiterate and with no way to earn money. These obstacles, along with traditional views about gender roles, keep women from realizing their full potential.
In the evenings when the housework is complete, Noor shares with her daughters what she has learned through her trainings – not just work skills and literacy, but also about the rights of women as documented in their nation’s constitution.
Before her Women for Women International training Malai, age 20, didn’t know she had the right to participate in elections. Neither did her husband. To help Afghan men understand how the advancement of women has a positive effect on families and communities, Women for Women International launched the Men’s Leadership Program in 2008. So far, 20 male community leaders have been trained to instruct their peers about the negative effects of restricting women’s participation in economic and social spheres.
Though progress is slow and difficult, Noor is dreaming, “I wish for my daughter to finish school and then marry a man she loves.” Some women have already made life-changing decisions. Raissa negotiated with her daughter’s future in-laws that they will allow her to complete her education. “I think my daughter will have a happy life in the future.”
Azada was the third wife of an Afghan car dealer who went back and forth between wives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I endured the cruelty of my husband because I didn’t have other choices,” says Azada. Exiled in Pakistan, Azada eventually got permission from her father to divorce her husband – and returned to Kabul to support her two growing children. There she enrolled in rights awareness classes and, with the help of Women for Women International, learned a trade. Her most prized possession is her certificate of employment. “I never thought that one day I would have the opportunity to support myself without a man,” she says. “Now I can do it. I am doing it!
Beauty Parlor Training is a favorite among participants at Women for Women International’s Afghanistan Chapter. Under the Taliban, working in a beauty parlor was unacceptable. But 180 women have broken cultural barriers to participate in Kabul, Parwan, and Kapisa provinces. With these new vocational skills the participants will be able to work interesting and steady jobs while generating income to improve the lives of their families and the stability of their communities. Below is the story of Pashtoon, one of the participants that is taking advantage of this new training.
Pashtoon grew up dreaming of one day owning her own beauty parlor. The Kla Klan resident understood that running her own business could provide a steady income that would protect her and her family from the devastation of poverty and unemployment. She dreamed of achieving self-reliance and devoting herself to work she enjoyed and was good at. War shattered these dreams. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1978, Pashtoon realized the fight for survival would replace her dreams of independence and economic stability.
Soldiers occupied her village and forced Pashtoon and her family out of their home. Homeless, they sought refuge in Afsar, a region to the west of Kabul, and life became increasingly painful. Her husband was killed in a rocket attack in 1992. Still grieving, she knew she must now be the sole breadwinner for her two sons and two daughters. Pashtoon also mourned the loss of three close relatives. Her world was unraveling slowly.
Pashtoon had little time to grieve the tragedy of her life. She knew she could not stop fighting for her family. She suddenly became the only woman left in her family to raise her motherless grandson, whose parents had died during fighting in the area. Her two sons had fortunately survived and found work. But the money they made was not enough to support the entire family. Every day, Pashtoon and her children struggled to simply to feed their family.
In December 2004, Pashtoon learned that Women for Women International was giving aid and support to socially excluded women living in and around Kabul. Pashtoon soon discovered that the Afghanistan Chapter offered beauty parlor training. She was excited at this opportunity. She hoped that by learning these skills she could find employment. For Pashtoon, employment meant that all the years of impossible struggle would be over. Her family would have food; her grandson, a child born during horrifying destruction, would have a future.
Pashtoon’s new-found joy and enthusiasm is apparent to anyone who sees her working with other women in the program. In joking with her friends, she laughs and says, “You are so young. Oh don’t think that I seem old and have no interest in beauty parlor! See I do! And you will soon see me with my own shop. This is my hope and pride.”
Having survived the war, Pashtoon’s dream meant more to her than before. Before owning a beauty parlor would have meant fulfilling her own fantasy. But things changed. She carried the weight of war and the exhaustion of being the sole provider for those she loved. She had carried all this for years but now she could at last let it go. Hope for survival kept her going, but hope for a vibrant future was something she had nearly forgotten. For the first time in a long time, she renewed her ambition and the passion of her past. Her dream was alive again.
Pashtoon has changed dramatically since joining Women for Women International and participating in the beauty parlor training. She is now aware of the strength and power behind her own choices. “Now, I know that women can learn about their rights which have been ignored by society. These rights can get women out of calamity. This makes me so hopeful for my future.”
Zia, a 45 year-old wife and mother, came to Women for Women International-Afghanistan's office holding one pair of knitted socks. She, like most women in Afghanistan, suffered under the Taliban regime, where women were not allowed to attend school or work; appear in public without a burqa; use cosmetics; play sports; wear bright colors; or even laugh out loud. She struggled to support her 7 children and husband, who was debilitated from a heart attack. Women attending classes at our offices watched Zia as she knitted socks and asked questions. It soon became apparent that many women wanted to learn how to knit like Zia. Zia was hired by Women for Women International-Afghanistan as one of our first vocational skills trainers. Zia is pleased to share her knowledge, "I earn money for my family and share my skills with other women. I am proud to teach others."
Anisa is 28 years old and lives in Parwan Province, Afghanistan. She lives with her husband of 11 years and her three children. Their home has running water, but no electricity and the nearest market is 20 minutes away on foot.
More than anything, Anisa stresses the importance of education for herself and her children. She has two daughters and one son, and she and her husband hope to have at least two more children. Anisa is pleased with the improvement in the availability of education for Afghans but there is more to be done, especially for women like herself who have never been to school before. “If I could tell President Obama about women, I would tell him to help Afghan women to be educated,” she said.
All of Anisa’s kids are in school, it’s very important to her that she see her children receive the education she never had. “Girls should go to school in order to be educated,” she said. “We need [education] for female doctors in the future.” Educating women to become doctors is particularly important in Afghanistan. After decades of preventing women from being educated, all Afghan doctors are male. Yet in Afghanistan, men and women are not allowed to be alone in a room together, even as doctor and patient. This means that when a woman goes to the doctor, she must be accompanied by her husband, impinging on her privacy or, worse still, she must sit behind a curtain and explain her ailments to the doctor without him examining her physically. This of course leads to inaccurate diagnoses and generally poor healthcare for women.
She began Women for Women International’s program in January and has been a participant for nearly six months now. “I have learned many useful lessons about women’s rights,” she said, “and I really like tailoring class!” Like the majority of Afghan women who enter the WfWI-Afghanistan program, Anisa faces discrimination and reduced freedoms because she is a woman. Although voting is legally open to all Afghans above the age of 18, including women, Anisa says that she does not vote because she “is not allowed.” When leaving the house, she must first consult her husband and can only go out accompanied by her son. But the education she is receiving from Women for Women is already helping to empower her to understand her rights as an Afghan woman. “Both men and women are equal, and women can also work and study,” she says. “Everyone can live free, get education, and work.”
Marzari has been with Women for Women International-Afghanistan for nearly six months. She lives in Kapisa with her husband of 20 years and seven children. Although she was married at age 12 to a man she had never met before, she describes their marriage as a happy partnership. “He is a very kind man…we do not do anything until we discuss with each other.”
Things have improved for Marzari and her family in the past five years. She has running water and electricity in her home, and all of her children are in school, including her three daughters. “Before, my husband was jobless and my children were not in school. Now they are, and my husband is working as well.”
Marzari says that the situation for Afghan women has improved as well. Now she is able to leave her house by herself as she pleases. She is learning her rights through WfWI-Afghanistan’s rights awareness training, and knows that women and men are equals. “Everyone can live free, can work and study,” she says.
An educated woman herself, Marzari stresses the importance of sending her seven children to school. Marzari went to school until the 11th grade, but at that time she was still barred from furthering her education and finding employment. Now, as Afghanistan undergoes reconstruction, Marzari is aware of the opportunities that may be open to her daughters as they grow up in the new Afghanistan. “Both my sons and my daughters are in school. Girls should be educated as well because the government will need them.”
Marzari is proof that the opinions of Afghan women should be taken into consideration as Afghanistan continues the process of reconstruction. She demonstrates her understanding of the current security situation in Afghanistan and prioritizes national police- and national army-training as a means of increased security. Women like Marzari are hopeful that they and their daughters will have increased opportunity to voice their opinions and take an active role in securing the future of Afghanistan.
Safiya is a 17 year old girl living in Nijro province. She is in school and has been with Women for Women International – Afghanistan (WfWI-Afghanistan) for almost one year. Safiya represents a new generation of Afghan women, allowed to pursue an education and who at nearly 18 remains unmarried with no children. Safiya is aware of this new role, she says, “[Afghanistan] has changed a lot, especially in education.”
But she and her family continue to live in debilitating poverty. While she has access to healthcare, education and other services and commodities, Safiya must walk at least 40 minutes to her school and to the nearest health clinic. Forced to live on rental property, Safiya says of her situation, “We have economical problems. [My family needs] a house, it is very urgent.”
Safiya is becoming educated about women’s rights and voting from Women for Women. Not yet 18, she is not legally allowed to acquire a voting card yet but plans to when she is old enough. But Safiya is wise despite her youth. “Even though I am not completely 18, [my] view point is a good leader is a person who serves his homeland.” Her greatest wish for the next ten years in her homeland is for the restoration of peace and security. “We have 50 percent security in Afghanistan, not 100 percent. When our national police and national army really serve our homeland then security will improve; if they continue to take bribes, it is not possible.”
Safiya’s education has increased her awareness of the gender disparities Afghan women face. “Both men and women have equal rights, but usually men do not accept this matter.” This is the reality for most Afghan women. Despite strides made in women’s access to education and being given the legal right to vote, Afghan society often dictates otherwise. “Sometime it is very difficult for women, like when men force them to do something and they don’t want to…and even they are not allowed getting out of the house.” Knowledgeable young women like Safiya inspire hope in the eyes of many Afghan women. She is well educated and confident in her vision for the future of Afghanistan. Continuing to invest in the futures of women like Safiya helps to ensure a stronger future for Afghanistan and for Afghan women.
Lailah's life has hardly been typical for an Afghan woman, but her strength and courage reflect the spirit of her country. As a young girl, Lailah received so much attention from those who wanted to marry her that her father forced her to marry one of her relatives, a little boy who was 10 years old. She was only nine years old.
As Lailah grew older, she saw how the Taliban were threatening the peace in Afghanistan, and how fighting had impacted everyone in her country. She decided to take up arms against the Taliban, and joined her husband to fight. Together, they fought for a year, before they were forced to flee Afghanistan. Living as refugees in Iran, Lailah and her husband returned only after the Taliban was ousted from power, 11 years later.
Encouraged by her friends, Lailah decided to join the Afghan army, putting herself at risk in order to protect other women. Learning about security from Women for Women International, Lailah now works to protect the other women who participate in WfWI's programs. For her, participating in WfWI's activities has been an empowering experience; seeing women come together to support women's rights and advocating for greater democracy and development in Afghanistan has been a source of pride.
For Lailah, peace means freedom and friendship. She wants to continue to help other women in her community move from crisis to a more secure position where they can provide for their families.
Wahida is a mother in Afghanistan who runs a beauty parlor in her home that she was able to start with training from Women for Women International. With her neighbors and other women as customers, Wahida is able to earn 3,000AFN or 60.00 USD each month despite the lack of security, which can make it difficult to travel outside.
Wahida's experiences of war in her country have been nothing but hardship, and she dreams of the happiness that peace will bring. Wahida says, "My only wish is for my children, to see them educated and finish university." She hopes that despite all the challenges she's faced, it will be worth it to see her children graduate. Each day, Wahida works very hard in order to help her children be successful and happy.
As for herself, Wahida says she has not had very many happy moments in her life. For Wahida, "Seeing that a wife and husband are talking to each other, talking about love, and they are living in a very peaceful environment, this is when I feel happy. When I see that their children are playing with their fathers, this is a kind of happiness for me. My little girl always tells me that, 'Mom, I want to go to the market and buy a father and bring him home to never ever fight with you and always love you.'"
Wahida hopes that all mothers will allow their daughters the freedom to grow up and will not force them to marry while they are still children. She believes all mothers have a responsibility to their daughters, especially to ensure they go to school. Within her own family, Wahida faces opposition to sending her daughters to school from those who believe it is a shame. But for Wahida, her sons and daughters are the same, and she is determined to give her daughters the education that she never had.