Investing in Women is the Key to Solving Development Challenges in Afghanistan
Women for Women International is a global, grassroots women’s organization that provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources they need to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency. Since 1993, Women for Women International has served over 250,000 women worldwide and distributed over $79 million in direct aid, program services and micro-credit loans. Women for Women International currently has field operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Rwanda, Nigeria, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Women for Women International Afghanistan (WfWI – Afghanistan) launched program operations in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2002, with a vision to economically empower Afghan women and help open opportunities for them to actively participate in the reconstruction of their communities, country and economy. “Once women are economically empowered, they can use their voice to speak for themselves,” says WfWI – Afghanistan Country Director Sweeta Noori. Historically, Afghan women have experienced enormous obstacles, such as poverty, lack of education or healthcare and violence both in and outside their homes. Women for Women International believes that a nation cannot prosper, nor can peace be sustained, without the full participation of women. Thus, our year-long core program offers health and literacy training, vocational and technical skills development, rights awareness and life skills as well as income generation assistance. Participants to our programs include widows, victims of human trafficking, single heads of household, returnees and internally displaced persons. Over 27,000 women have accessed program services in our Afghanistan country office.
Rights Awareness Education and Vocational Skills Development
The women of Afghanistan understand the value of education and job training. When they enroll in Women for Women International’s program, they dream of using the education and the skills they learn to earn an income and improve their family situation. They also receive rights awareness training to help them understand their rights—according to both national and family law—so they may become more active participants in family and community decision-making processes. These sessions also serve to unite women and build a support system that strengthens solidarity and enables them to advocate on behalf of themselves and the group. Finally, a critical component to WfWI programming is building and strengthening women’s vocational and technical skills targeted to identified market opportunities. Local instructors provide training in areas such as jewelry making, shoe making, animal husbandry, tailoring, stone cutting and many others. At graduation, women can elect to access credit through Women for Women are key to job creation and stimulating private sector development that will engage women in the rebuilding of Afghanistan’s economy.
Currently, there are 6,600 women participating in WfWI – Afghanistan’s year-long program. After graduation, these women will have access to business start-up advisory services, as well as access to capital and input supplies. They will also be trained in the formation of cooperatives, legal registration of businesses, and they will be educated on microfinance opportunities. Microfinance has emerged in recent decades as one of the more successful methods of stimulating developing economies by providing financial services to the poor, particularly poor women who are more likely to reinvest their loans into their families or communities. In 2005, WfWI – Afghanistan established its microfinance program to provide women access to micro-credit loans and help them establish small businesses and other income generating enterprises. The program has a current loan portfolio of $2,417,512 and so far over 60,000 women have been served at a repayment rate of over 99%.
Food Security and Agriculture
Afghanistan is one of the least food-secure countries in the world. Farming is constrained by non-arable land, extreme weather, and skyrocketing food prices. To combat Afghanistan’s growing food crisis and position women at the forefront of its solution, WfWI-Afghanistan is piloting a new income generation program known as Commercial Integrated Farming initiative, where women are given the tools and resources they need to produce high-value crops for commercial markets. Our commercial farming initiative was initially launched in Rwanda and Sudan in 2008 to provide Sudanese and Rwandese women with organic agricultural and cooperative development skills to enable them to grow food and generate income for long-term economic and food security. The success of CIFI in Sudan and Rwanda was remarkable. In Sudan for example, nearly 80% of participants were on-track to earn double per-capita GDP at the end of only six months. This is a critical shift against a global context where 70% of the world’s smallholder farmers are women, who yet own less than 2% of the world’s land and customarily survive at only subsistence levels of agriculture. Given the severe levels of poverty and hunger in Afghanistan, we are now implementing this innovative program for Afghan women who are being trained in animal husbandry and crop production . As more women are trained to be skilled farmers in the rebuilding of Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, they will not only be at the center of agricultural and economic development, but they will also be the driving force in reversing the devastating poverty that is killing more Afghans than the conflict (OHCHR). Afghanistan is currently the second poorest country in the world and nearly a third of the population is unable to get enough food to live on. Afghan women are particularly vulnerable to hunger since only 38 percent of Afghan women are economically active.
Engaging Men as Advocates for Women’sRights
While Women for Women International’s primary mission is to give women the tools and resources they need to rebuild their lives, we have seen in our 17 years of experience that they are only able to do so when all members of the community—including men—are fully engaged in the dialogue about women’s rights and value to the society. Thus, Women for Women International has developed an innovative program to work with influential male community leaders to raise awareness about the importance of women’s rights and contributions to the community and economy. In Afghanistan, Women for Women International has worked with more than 400 Afghan mullahs to help them understand how valuable women’s education and economic empowerment is, and how it is encouraged—not forbidden—in Islam. They then incorporate these themes into their Friday speeches, sharing this important message of the far-reaching benefits of women’s full social and economic participation with their congregations, thereby spreading a ripple effect of awareness around women’s rights throughout the community.
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