"My wife is not educated, but now I am helping her study," says Said Merwais with a smile, during an interview at our offices in Afghanistan. A young man from Kabul, Merwais says that within the last few months, he started teaching his wife how to read, write, and count at home.
When Merwais was growing up, the Taliban controlled much of Afghanistan, and prevented girls from going to school and women from accessing their rights. Although much has changed since then, discriminatory attitudes towards women and girls still remain.
But attitudes can change. For Merwais, participating in Women for Women International's men's engagement program last year was a turning point.
Said Merwais, a men's program graduate in Afghanistan. Photo credit: Rada Akbar
"It definitely changed what I thought," says Merwais, when asked whether the program influenced his attitudes towards women. "For example," he says he now believes "women have the right to learn in society."
At home, Merwais has literacy books that he uses to teach his wife, but his desire to share knowledge with her extends beyond the basics. He wants her ot understand what he learned in the trainings.
"I teach her all the knowledge I have, including women's rights in Islam."
Inpsired by a Teacher Committed to Women's Rights
Merwais remembers how different things were at the start of WfWI's program. "At first, we didn't know anything about women's rights... People [in my community] don't know about women's rights in Islam."
Over several months, WfWI men's program trainer Said Rafiullah engaged Merwais and the other men in the class in discussions about women's rights and violence against women, including forced and child marriage. Drawing from the many verses or "Surahs" in the Muslim scriptures as a guide, Rafiullah also referred to other legal documents in his class, such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Afghanistan ratified in 2003, and Afghanistan's own Elimination of Violence Against Women Law (2012).
WfWI men's program graduate Said Merwais and his program trainer Said Rafiullah. Photo credit: Rada Akbar
Making Changes in His Life
"All of the topics that I studied in the training helped me understand that I should bring some changes into my life," says Merwais, reflecting on the impact Rafiullah's classes had on him. "As I learned about these rights, I thought about my behavior with my family."
Merwais remembers how he used to get very angry with his sister, wife, and mother, and how through Rafiullah's classes, he learned that he needed to change his behavior to build better relationships with his family members, and especially with his wife. For example, he says he now helps her go where she wants and supports her in the things she wants to do. These small but important changes are creating a better environment for Merwais' family. "Now I am happy," he says. "My family is very happy."
Merwais is also thinking about his two young children, ages 2 and 1, and what kind of life he hopes to give them. Unlike his wife, he doesn't want his daughter to miss out on her education.
"I dream that my son will be a good pilot, and that my daughter will be a very good doctor," he says with pride.
Teaching Others about Women's Rights
Like his teacher Rafiullah, Merwais is also sharing what he learned in the men’s program with his friends and other family members whom he sees struggling with similar issues.
“I had a friend with the same problem as me, with bad behavior toward his family. I helped him with his problem. I talked about and guided him with the topics, laws, and verses that I studied in the training,” says Merwais.
“I will not stop in the future. I want to guide people to change their minds and bring changes to their lives.” Before Merwais left, he asked Women for Women International leaders for one thing: “If you could extend the program for other men, that would be good, especially for villages that are far away. They will then know about women’s rights too.”