Editor’s Note: Fereshteh Forough is a founding partner of the Afghan Citadel Software Company (ACSC). Currently she is working as the Central and South Asia Liaison for Citadel of New York and is the main writer for “An Afghan Perspective” on the 60 Minutes page at the Film Annex, where she is also responsible for the Women’s Annex and Afghan Development Platforms. Fereshteh earned her Masters of Database Engineering in 2010 at the Technical University in Berlin.
Afghanistan is a traditional country with a long history. Like Malalai, who in 1880 played a crucial role in leading Afghans to victory during the Second Anglo-Afghan war, women have always had a very important role in Afghan history. Afghan women spent their darkest time during the Taliban regime, though since the start of the new government a decade ago, women have played a much more active role in society. Still, there are many people that argue against women’s increased presence outside the home.
The home is where most of Afghan women stay, particularly in rural areas, acting as mothers and housewives. High value is given to a woman who raises well trained children and makes many sacrifices for her family. There are women who study and work outside the home, but they still face many challenges. Though compared to years ago, there is considerable growth in women’s participation in areas like education, politics, economy, health, arts, etc.
I cannot speak generally about all women in Afghanistan because, unfortunately, the positive changes are just happening in some big cities. The remote areas and villages are still suffering from a lack of support networks to help women with the issues they face, like violence. I can speak to the education of women, especially in the recent years. A considerable number of girls, especially in big cities, are involved in the educational system through schools and universities.
Being a city girl, though, does not necessarily mean one has access to safe education. There are some who are so opposed to educating girls that there have been cases of girls having acid poured on their faces on their way to school and schools being poisoned. Some families feel that education is just not for girls and prefer to keep their daughters home to do housework.
To help change this, I think workshops, seminars and awareness programs via mediums like television, radio and newspapers have to target families to help them make the right decisions for their children, especially girls. To me, public awareness is really important because ignorance is the main barrier inhibiting education and development.
Afghan women face numerous problems every day. In district areas and urban places, they suffer from a lack of good health care, as there are no special health centers for women, and there are not enough skilled female doctors and nurses. Because of this, they often use traditional medicine, particularly for childbirth, and unfortunately this leads to a high rate of death for women.
Regarding education, in many cases, there are not even classes for girls, because a particular area may not have any female teachers and families often don’t let male teachers teach girls. Within families, which are always male-dominated, girls are forced to marry the person whom their father and brothers select for them.
Outside of the cities women don’t know their rights because no one is making them aware of these rights. NGOs and other organizations that are helping women, focus their work mainly in cities. Women in rural places need more attention and support because a large portion of the population live in these areas, where they make their living from agriculture and raising livestock. Moving to the city is not an option for these people because there are no job opportunities there for them to support their families, which often have more than five children.
Both women and men need change to ensure equality — it is not only a process for men. Women also have to change their attitudes towards their fellow females and learn how to support rather than criticize them and put them down. On the other hand, women can understand each other well, as they share the same experiences and feelings while they are working outside of their homes. They should support each other by establishing workshops, seminars, and educational courses. Men have to believe in women’s skills and abilities and trust their work. They should look at empowering women as a way to share duties and responsibilities, building trusting relationships, which will lead to a better future for their society collectively.
I can say nothing is impossible, and even the word impossible says “I’m possible”. It is a fact that women in rural places are less educated than those who live in cities but most of them produce handicraft products at home. You can find a considerable amount of art work in carpet weaving, embroidery, production of textiles and many other impressive handiworks. The problem is that they do not have the financial support to bring their goods to the market and compete with others or even show their products outside of their living area. Those are valuable resources for Afghanistan because they keep our culture alive and only women can do that at home. The government and all woman’s organizations should consider this because it is the safest and easiest way to involve women in rural places in social activities while having their families be happy with the results.
Afghan women are courageous, talented and patient. It is time for them to get what they began fighting for many years ago. I wish that one day, every single Afghan girl and woman have real smiles on their faces when they see their dreams come true.