Afghan women fear loss of shelters as funding dwindles

As Afghanistan slides back into chaos, with a resurgent Taliban and dwindling international aid, many fear that the country’s women’s shelters could be forced to close, leaving those who rely on them at the mercy of an often harshly conservative society. ( Kabul, May 4, 2017, Associated Press )

Nearly 30 shelters across the country — a legacy of the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban — provide food, refuge and education for women abused by their husbands or male relatives. The shelters also offer safety to women at risk of so-called honor killings, or of being sold into marriage to repay debts, a still-common practice.

A 19-year-old at one such shelter in Kabul fled western Afghanistan after her father tried to trade her to another family for marriage in return for a young bride following the death of his wife. In the four years since she fled, she has learned to read and write, as well as how to sew, and is now teaching the other women.

She’s had no contact with her father since she ran away, and fears that if the shelter closes she would have to live on the streets. “There are men who mistreat and abuse girls and women who have no place to live,” she said, asking that her name not be used for fear of retribution from her family.

More than 15 years after the Taliban were overthrown, Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative country where women are largely confined to their homes. Their situation is even worse in the several districts of the country seized by the Taliban, who are more powerful than at any point since 2001.

Last month, the Taliban attacked an army base in the northern Balkh province, killing more than 140 security forces in one of the deadliest attacks launched since the extremists were overthrown.

The deteriorating security situation, and the shrinking footprint of the U.S. and NATO mission, has forced many aid agencies to scale back their activities in the still desperately poor country. U.N. agencies and global aid groups are meanwhile severely overstretched as they try to address the massive fallout from the Syrian civil war and other global crises.

That has raised concerns about the future of the shelters, which house an estimated 2,000 women at any given time.

Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan, or HAWCA, an NGO that has been operating a women’s shelter in Kabul since 2004, launched an emergency appeal for funding in March after it was told it might lose support from the U.N. The U.N. funding was later extended for another three months, until the end of June, but concerns remain.

The shelter provides aid and refuge to around 300 women a year, and has a monthly operating budget of $14,000. The emergency appeal raised just $13,500.

The government operates no shelters of its own. Kobra Rezaei, a spokeswoman for the Women’s Affairs Ministry, says it has asked President Ashraf Ghani to allocate funds for protecting women, including through shelters, but that no money has been forthcoming. Government spokesmen declined to comment.

Conservative religious leaders in Afghanistan have long railed against the shelters, saying they contribute to immorality among women and girls and encourage divorce. Many shelters, including those run by HAWCA, operate in secret locations.

A 16-year-old girl at a Kabul shelter, who also asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said she came there to escape her husband, who was twice her age, jobless and mentally unstable. The shelter helped her to get a divorce, but her own family won’t take her back.

“I don’t have anywhere, and there are thousands of other women like me, who have no one and no place to go,” she said.

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/05/04/afghan-women-fear-loss-shelters-as-funding-dwindles.html

 

Kabul’s first restuarant run by women for women

A new restaurant ran by survivors of domestic violence has opened in Kabul. Located in the heart of the capital it is managed by women for women. Men are welcomed too but only if they come with their families.

The founder Mary Akrami says she came up with this initiative “as most restaurants in Kabul are run by men and it’s difficult to have space for families”.This is a “space for women to feel free”, she adds.

(Picture: Afghan women at the launch of the restaurant. Credit: Mary Akrami)

Watch the BBC video HERE.

 

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Female street artist makes her mark on Kabul

shamsia-1-150x150“Afghanistan’s First Female Street Artist Brings Hijabs And Feminism To City Walls – Shamsia Hassani is the street art queen we’ve been waiting for’.

A woman in a purple hijab sits playing the piano, a tear rolling down her cheek. She plays her solitary tune amongst a sea of blue skyscrapers, soaring above the cars that zoom beneath her unnoticed. This subject already wears her contradictions proudly — she is strong, she is vulnerable, she is graceful, creative, separate, sad. And yet, at least it seems, she calls out to no one, content to sit with her feelings and express herself creatively, freely, in peace. 

This work of street art was made by Shamsia Hassani, widely known as the first prominent woman street artist in Afghanistan. Hassani was born in 1988 in Tehran to Afghan parents, eventually moving to Kabul to pursue her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in visual art. She currently resides in Kabul, where she turns the city’s walls into colorful canvases that spread a message of peace and hope to her community.

Through her work, Hassani hopes to present a different view of Afghanistan – one not easily equated with war and violence but beauty and art. “I want to cover all bad memories of war from people’s minds with colors,” she said in an interview with Street Art Bio.

As if Hassani isn’t taking on enough of a challenge, she’s subtly subverting dominant gender norms in the process.

I have changed my images to show the strength of women, the joy of women,” Hassani explained in an interview with Art Radar Journal. “In my artwork, there is lots of movement. I want to show that women have returned to Afghan society with a new, stronger shape. It’s not the woman who stays at home. It’s a new woman. A woman who is full of energy, who wants to start again. You can see that in my artwork, I want to change the shape of women. I am painting them larger than life. I want to say that people look at them differently now.”

Hassani’s subjects sometimes don burqa and hijab, customary Islamic garments that, in Hassani’s drawings, become playgrounds for shape, line and color to take on a modernist grace. Most importantly, the images refute some dominant Western assumptions, showing that there can be freedom within tradition. 

“There are a lot of people around the world who think that the burqa is the problem,” Hassani said. “They think that if women remove the burqa, then they have no problems. But this is not true. I feel that there are lots of problems in Afghanistan for women. For example, when women cannot have access to education; this is more of a problem then wearing a burqa.”

Hassani creates a new work of graffiti approximately once every two to three months. While in the U.S. and much of Europe, graffiti is treated as a crime, the technique is embraced in Afghanistan. Hassani also teaches graffiti at the University of Kabul, where most of her students, in their 20s, are around her age.

Art galleries are scarce in the region, but barren walls are in abundance, making graffiti an ideal way to expose art to a wide, if accidental audience. However, Hassani does encounter difficulties creating work as a woman, and is often forced to confront an ugly majority that believe a woman’s place is in the home. Because of the struggles arising from sexist beliefs, Hassani developed a practice she calls “dreaming graffiti” — work made in the studio instead of on the streets. With this technique, Hassani uses digital images as her cityscape, painting over them to create a colorful landscape inside her mind.  

Hassani is currently the artist-in-residence at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Read on for the artist’s descriptions of three of her graffiti series, “Secret,” “Birds of No Nation” and “Once Upon a Time.”

Secret 

“I began this series by outlining the figures of women in burqas with straight lines and sharp edges, conveying a feeling of strength. Still, I wanted to show the secret beneath the burqa, which is that there is a real person inside. I wanted to remove the restrictions on women and the guitar represents her ability to speak up and express herself. It is red because the color is used to draw attention to important things in Afghanistan.”

Birds of No Nation 

“Birds are constantly migrating to find food and shelter, they have no nationality because they find comfort in any safe place. I see this in the Afghan people as well, they are moving from country to country in search of peace and safety. It seems as if they have no nation like those birds. In this series, the woman is in a new area and she is feeling displaced because nothing is hers and so she does not fit in.”

Once Upon a Time 

“The title comes from the traditional way of telling a story. My tale is of a woman living in the past and present at once. This woman has tried to free herself from her unhappy situation and so she is sitting above it all, looking in from the outside. The city view is in black-and-white, representing the way that we see the past, while she is in full color and in the present.”

To view the works of art, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/afghanistans-first-female-street-artist_us_56c26fd5e4b0b40245c79f3c

 

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The Farkhunda Scholarship

The Farkhunda Scholarship

Founded by AMEWYS for girls and women who face violence in their communities.

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BACKGROUND

Farkhunda was a courageous young Afghan woman with a degree in Sharia Law who was brutally murdered by a Kabul mob after pointing out how the Koran was being misinterpreted.

Within minutes of being falsely accused by a Mullah of ‘tearing up the Koran’ Farkhunda was set upon by a militant crowd of angry men who kicked her, stoned her with large rocks and ripped off her clothing. They drove a car over her shattered body before throwing it from a rooftop into the city’s polluted river. Then, in a final act of degradation, they poured petrol over Farkhunda and burned her like coal.

The violent death of this innocent young woman shocked the international community.

Misinterpretation of Islam has bred a culture in which violence and oppression of women has become almost normalised, making it extremely hard for them to get access to education or pursue professional careers. This situation has developed alongside the legacy of long term conflict, creating a situation in which normal structures of civil society and non-governmental organisations are not able to operate properly.

SCHOLARSHIP

AMEWYS (the Asia Middle East Women & Youth Society) believes that members of society need to act together to restore government & non-government institutions to functionality, so that ALL citizens can enjoy the normal life that they are entitled to. To this end, AMEWYS wishes to establish a scholarship to support higher education for girls in Afghanistan.

It sees education as one of the critical vehicles by which moderate Islam can triumph in preparing young girls and ‘women-of-the-future’ for key roles in their respective societies.

AMEWYS plans to establish a charity to fund Farkhunda Scholarships to begin that process of transformation. In that way, Farkhunda’s death will mark a new beginning for a generation of young women.

Once we have set up a framework for charitable giving, we will arrange to have a Charity Donor Site to which you can make donations to this critically important initiative.

Staring with 10 students, we hope to begin the process of educating a generation of able young women to become the leaders of the future in their country.

With YOUR help we can do this, so please  stay tuned for further information!

Interview with an inspirational woman

noria_2Nooria Amiri is a graduate of Zarghoona High School in Kabul and is currently studying science at Kabul University. She is single and has mastered over four foreign languages: English, Urdu, German, and Turkish. In addition, she is skilled with tailoring, needlework, and cooking. She has lived in Pakistan for five years and has traveled to countries such as Turkey, Jordan, the UAE, and Nepal. Nooria is currently on the management board and head of the women’s committee of the Khat-i Naw Organization. Kind, hardworking, and a member of a middle-class family in Kabul, Nooria is a model for her family and for society.

(*Read original interview HERE)

FIRM STEPS TO A BETTER FUTURE

How difficult was it for you to become an active member of society?

When you enter into social situations, you gradually find out where you actually stand. When I see social problems others face, I start thinking of solutions and bringing change. When I worked in various fields and saw specific problems facing women there, I got motivated and became more active.

Have you ever faced any serious problems while engaging in social and political activism?

Undoubtedly, those who are involved in social and political activism become victims—the victims of unfavorable culture. There are also political and security obstacles. However, when one commits to moving forward, then s/he must expect hindrances and must overcome them.

You are a member of the management board and head of the women’s committee of the Khat-i Naw Organization. What made you join this organization?

No one can reach his/her goals alone. A long journey begins with a single step. When I worked with this organization and became familiar with its activities, I realized that collective efforts have positive impacts.

Do you think young people have been able to properly utilize the opportunities that have been available to them over the past few years?

It must be said that these opportunities have been accompanied by a number of difficulties as we dealt with a society in which everything—technology is one example—was new. Some young people made the utmost use of the opportunities available, while others could not. Meanwhile, awareness among young people went up. They took part in social, political, economic, and educational activities. Now they play an important role in media and civil society organizations. At the same time, the challenges facing them cannot be ignored. There are obstacles such as outdated customs and traditions and, above all, security problems. The women have no social protection. Also, the structural culture that we have inherited makes up another part of these challenges. Overcoming such challenges takes time.

What do you think about young people’s political participation?

In my opinion, young politicians have done quite well so far. Their activities largely depend on the opportunities available to them; there are people who, despite having done their master’s degree and doctorate, are jobless, and no one seems to be caring about them. There is nepotism and favoritism in government and other offices. Meanwhile, young people have seen significant social development, and people do value them. They played an active role in the recent elections in the country. Young parliamentarians play important roles in approving laws and regulations. If young Afghans are given opportunities, I am sure the country will change for the better.

With the establishment of the new government in the country, how can young people achieve more?

Young people are an energetic portion of a society. They can get involved in political activism. They can also contribute to the fight against corruption, insecurity, and factors such as nepotism to establish a better government.

As a young woman, what differences do you see between today and thirteen years ago?

There is significant difference. Women have more political, social, and cultural capital. Above all, girls are getting educations. During the Taliban regime, women were not even allowed to come out of their houses without a man accompanying them. Today women can travel to other countries. We can see women in all governmental and non-governmental offices. If the new government can ensure that social justice and civil rights are respected, there is no doubt that better opportunities will be available to women.

What other activities do you pursue, besides the Khat-i Naw Organization?

My activitism began with educating. I have taught school subjects, English, and computer skills. Currently, I am working on a women’s project with the US Embassy.

In general, how favorable do you think the political climate and security situation are for fostering the equal and active participation of women?

It cannot be said now that the rights of men and women are equal. But at the same time, some work has been done for women. Some have dared to make real uses of their rights by doing things like getting education and engaging in social and political activities. But that is not enough. There is  a need for more efforts to increase women’s participation.

Do you have any final comments?

I wish we could have a peaceful and prosperous country where social justice is executed and where no woman is deprived of the blessing of getting an education.

‘The West made lots of promises to Afghan girls – now it’s breaking them’

One reason given for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was to educate girls. But as the Western military shrinks there, so does the funding for those schools.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The girls of Afghanistan have been betrayed. When Taliban rule ended almost 13 years ago, international donors rushed in to promise that young women would no longer be denied an education. Western governments spent a decade patting themselves on the back for what they touted as exceptional work supporting schools for the beleaguered girls of Afghanistan. They talked about bringing women out of purdah, literally as well as figuratively, so they could help their families and their country to prosper.

But the closing of one school after another exposes the hollowness of those promises. In fact, the state of education in Afghanistan is still so shaky that only about half of Afghan girls manage to go to school, and those numbers are set to decline.

In the volatile southern province of Kandahar, for instance, an innovative school for teenage girls will soon close its doors. The Kandahar Institute for Modern Studies, established in 2006 with funding and encouragement from the Canadian government, has run out of donors. And it is only one of a number of Afghan schools to face the budget axe swung by distant governments and cost-cutting politicians.

Other schools have been shuttered because of attacks and threats stemming from the war that continues to engulf the country. In July, girls’ schools closed in one entire district, depriving 40,000 girls of education.  

The website of the U.S. development agency proudly proclaims, “In 2013, one million Afghan learners are enrolled in schools with USAID assistance, and over 5 million primary grade students benefitted from USAID assistance.” But in January 2014, the U.S. Congress cut the U.S. government’s allocation of development aid for Afghanistan by half.  

Then there’s the United Kingdom. “We agree that expanded access to good quality secondary education that produces skills for employment is essential for Afghanistan’s future prosperity,” the British government wrote in 2013. Yet in a 2012 report the U.K. government had already decided that it had “built too much” in terms of schools and health clinics in Afghanistan and that only “critical” facilities would remain open.

Getting Afghan girls into school wasn’t just a benign-but-unintended by-product of the international military intervention in Afghanistan.  Soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. and the invasion of Afghanistan, world leaders explicitly cited the extreme oppression suffered by women and girls under the Taliban as a justification for the operation.

“The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” said Laura Bush, wife of then-U.S. President George W. Bush, in November 2001, giving the weekly presidential radio address in place of her husband.

“The women of Afghanistan still have a spirit that belies their unfair, downtrodden image,” said Cherie Blair, wife of then-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, also in November 2001. “We need to help them free that spirit and give them their voice back, so they can create the better Afghanistan we all want to see.”

But today, as crises in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and West Africa compete for attention, Afghanistan is not even yesterday’s news—it’s last year’s news. Journalists are leaving Kabul, embassies are downsizing, and donors are quietly and drastically scaling back.

“How’s it going?” I asked a friend who runs aid programs at the U.S. embassy in Kabul not long ago.

“Oh, you know,” he said. “Just shutting things down.”

Military disengagement from Afghanistan is advancing; the newly signed Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. and Status of Forces Agreement with NATO pave the way for a continued, but very limited, international military involvement in Afghanistan.

Donor involvement is more important than ever, however. President Hamid Karzai handed over to Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, not just the reins of power but also a badly overdrawn checking account. Ghani’s government has been forced to seek a $537 million bailout from donors just to continue paying civil servant salaries. There are hopes that this new government, fronted by Ghani, a technocrat who was formerly Afghanistan’s finance minister and spent several decades with the World Bank, will bring much-needed fiscal stability to the Afghan economy. But that won’t happen tomorrow.

Afghanistan will have to pay for its own schools one day, and one hopes it is moving in that direction. But it can’t possibly do so right now. The ones who will pay first and worst are the country’s girls as they slide back toward the devastation of illiteracy.

A November donor conference in London will bring together all of Afghanistan’s donors to take stock of commitments made at the 2012 Tokyo Conference and to craft a new partnership going forward. Donors should come to the conference mindful not just of commitments they have made to the Afghan government, but also the solemn pledges they first made to support Afghan women and girls in 2001, and have made over and over since then.

Earlier this month, after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two children’s rights activists, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Yousafzai, a 17-year old from Pakistan, would be travelling to Canada to accept honorary Canadian citizenship, an honor only five others, including Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, have ever received. U.S. President Barack Obama was quick to congratulate the Nobel winners as well, saying, “As we celebrate their achievements, we must recommit ourselves to the world that they seek—one in which our daughters have the right and opportunity to get an education; and in which all children are treated equally.”

That’s what Afghan girls want. And that’s what the countries that marched into Afghanistan 13 years ago promised them. This is no time to break that promise.

Heather Barr

The Daily Beast, October 20, 2014

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/20/the-west-made-lots-of-promises-to-afghan-girls-now-it-s-breaking-them.html

Kabul leadership centre offers free support for women.

logo-smV-Day has committed to supporting PWCE (Promoting Women Capabilities by Education) to run an extraordinary leadership centre in the heart of Kabul.  The centre is providing free, non-formal education in literacy, science, computers, family planning  and English for Afghan women and girls, as well as legal, psychosocial and counseling support. It is currently serving 150 and has the capacity to serve 250.

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For full click HERE.

 

’90 percent of males in Balkh and Kabul against women’s participation in politics’ – Oxfam

 

A recent study conducted by Oxfam International revealed that 94 percent of women from Kabul and Balkh provinces are either not allowed to participate in the political processes of Afghanistan or do not have any knowledge about their rights and ways in which they can contribute in the political arena of the country.

Oxfam conducted the study over the past two months in Kabul and Balkh provinces. The study revealed the deplorable state of women’s participation in the political arena. The organization expressed its worries over low female turnout in the elections and said that almost 90 percent of the males in Afghanistan are against the participation of women in the political activities of the country.

“90 percent of males are against the participation of women in the political processes of the country,” said Ali Ahmad Saadat, Flow Project Manager, Oxfam.

Full report from Tolo News HERE.