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 is 32-years-old andhas 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, 17 – 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 help to ensure a stronger future for Afghanistan and for Afghan women.