Women for Women International's work in Afghanistan was featured as part of a PBS Wide Angle documentary, A Woman Among Warlords.
To the Editor:
Re “In Poverty and Strife, Women Test Limits” (news article, Oct. 6):
The fact that women are making significant progress in some parts of Afghanistan is good news that confirms our own experience in the country.
The province of Bamian will benefit from women taking on new roles as breadwinners, peacekeepers and government leaders; indeed, the area’s relative stability indicates that it already has. In many other areas the change is far less visible and comes in small but significant steps, with women learning skills and finding opportunities to support their families.
But we cannot let these encouraging developments overshadow the life-threatening dearth of health care, education and basic human rights for the majority of Afghan women. Stabilizing Afghanistan must include teaching women how to read and write, develop sources of income and become more active in public life.
Bamian shows that change is possible, even in the most challenging environments. Sweeta Noori
Afghanistan Country Director
Women for Women International
Washington, Oct. 8, 2008
Women for Women International's project Help Women and Children Survivors of War Rebuild, makes it to the top 5 in the American Express Members Project. To nominate this project for potential funding, please go to Help Women and Children Survivors of War Rebuild. Please click the link on our project and click Nominate — and ultimately vote so we may share in the $2.5 million in funding from American Express. If you do not have an American Express website login, just click “Guest Member” provide a little information and you can then Nominate and vote.
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Enabling women to begin and maintain their own businesses helps raise a woman’s self-esteem, the respect she gets from her community, and her ability to support herself and her family. Here are the stories of two women survivors of war.
Bringing Beauty Back to Afghanistan: Pashtoon’s Story
Pashtoon, an Afghan woman, grew up dreaming of one day owning her own beauty parlor business. 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 Pashtoon’s dreams. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1978, Pashtoon realized the fight for survival for herself and her family would replace her dreams of independence and economic stability. Soldiers occupied her village and forced Pashtoon and her family out of their home. They sought refuge in Afsar where life became increasingly painful.
Her husband was killed in a rocket attack in 1992, leaving her the sole breadwinner for her two sons and two daughters. Pashtoon also mourned the loss of three close relatives. She became the only woman left in her family to raise her motherless grandson, whose parents had died during fighting in the area. Her world was slowly unraveling. Pashtoon had little time to grieve the tragedy of her life. She knew she could not stop fighting for her family. 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 simply to feed themselves.
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 elated. She hoped that learning these skills would bring employment and end all the years of impossible struggle. 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. Now, after years of carrying the weight of war and the exhaustion of being the sole provider for those she loved, she could dream of moving beyond survival to self-sufficiency. Hope for survival had 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 rights awareness and job skills 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.”
Starting Over: Azada’s Story
Azada, another woman, was forced to seek refuge in Pakistan in 1990 due to the violence in Afghanistan. Azada’s husband refused to go with her. She had to live with her father’s family and try to come and she was surrounded by 13 people living without enough to eat and without the means to change their lives.
She gave her husband an ultimatum. He could either move in and support his children or divorce her. He chose the first; Azada accepted because she was terrified that she could not support her daughters independently. Economic dependency convinced her to try to start a new life with the man who had left her alone and hungry. Her husband only stayed for one year.
She asked for a divorce and her husband gave in. Azada was a free woman, but her independence only existed on paper. In reality she was still bound to a man – she lived with her father and it was his skills in selling firewood that kept her alive.
Women for Women International found Azada unemployed and living with little hope. She soon learned a new skill, making jewelry, and found employment. She could stand, independent and proud, knowing that economic dependence would never again keep her shackled in poverty or bound to a man. Azada worked hard and took pride in her education. Now Azada is an assistant instructor, leading young women out of poverty and into a thriving future. Azada says her future “will be a lesson for the men in my community. They will see that women who are kind and patient still are able to make their own decisions and be independent.” Her daughters know that they have an empowered woman to care for and protect them.
Women for Women International in Washington, D.C., has been named the winner of the 2006 Hilton Humanitarian Prize, which comes with a $1.5 million award, one of the largest monetary prizes, in any category, in the world.
Founded in 1993 by Zainab Salbi — who survived years of strife in Iraq — Women for Women International (WWI) works with female survivors of war and conflict in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan. Picking up where humanitarian aid leaves off, WWI has served more than 70,000 women, assisted 380,000 family members, and distributed approximately $28 million in direct aid and micro-credit loans. The organization also operates a sister-to-sister program and a letter exchange that matches female sponsors with women who have lived through similar conflicts; its field offices are staffed almost entirely by country nationals. Salbi said the prize money will serve as a challenge gift for a $6 million campaign to build permanent safe women's centers in countries in which WWI operates.
"Women and children bear the major burdens of the unprecedented number of wars and civil conflicts raging worldwide and are often left to rebuild their lives without the basic necessities for survival or a viable means to earn a living and take care of their families," said Steven M. Hilton, chairman and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. "Women for Women International has demonstrated that it can create change and stability within a society by providing women survivors with the tools and resources to rebuild their lives. The organization also gives women the training and confidence to engage in their communities' and ultimately their nation's economic, political and social structures."
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