The Afghan Women’s Educational Center (AWEC) was established in 1991 by a group of educated Afghan women who rallied together to address the lack of facilities for Afghan refugees in the Islamabad/Rawalpindi area. It was the first non-profit organization to mobilize scattered refugee women in and around Islamabad. The Center provided a place for women to meet, as well as offering classes in literacy, tailoring, English language, women’s rights awareness, computer training and typing.
In recent years AWEC has expanded its activities to include Peace-Building education in camps in Peshawar, Quetta and in parts of Kabul; capacity building for women-headed NGOs; a school for girls in Kabul to enable them to catch up on education missed during the Taliban years; and a small project focusing on one-off support and needs assessment for Widows in Kabul.
AWEC is committed to promoting human rights and gender equality, working towards the abolishment of any kind of discrimination and violence against women and children through awareness raising and advocacy and through the delivery of social service. Their vision is “Establishing an environment free of violence and discrimination, enabling women and children to access their human rights within the country, based on concepts of civil society democracy, justice and gender equity.”
Please now read the Answer and Question Interview conducted with Zulaikha Rafiq, Executive Director at AWEC.
1. What does Peace in Afghanistan mean to you/the organisation?
Peace in Afghanistan is vital for our organization. The Afghan Women’s Educational Center (AWEC) works for the protection and promotion of women’s and children’s rights, and without peace, such rights are just an abstraction, an ideal. Women and children are constantly vulnerable, both as potential casualties of war and internal conflict, as well as of social and economic marginalization due to inadequate and half-baked systems and policies that fail to address the needs of all people alike. When there is peace and people are willing to listen to each other and to address all kinds of unfair practices, only then can we expect all Afghans to have basic human rights.
AWEC works to protect women’s rights to education, economic empowerment, political participation as well as their legal rights and access to justice. Though in the absence of sustained peace, the environment is so full of risk that survival is as much as most women aim for, even thinking of themselves as independent individuals with opinions, capable of independent action, is a dream for most women. As an organization, with over 75% of its staff comprised of women, it is both dangerous and difficult for us to reach all the women who need our support. If there is peace in Afghanistan, AWEC can contribute more fully to building the capacities of Afghan women and enabling them to emerge as strong and competent contributors to the process of nation rebuilding.
2. Over the past 12 years what have been the best achievements for peace development in Afghanistan? Would you say these changes are sustainable? If not, in what ways can we help make these positive changes more sustainable?
Over the past 12 years the best achievements for peace and development in Afghanistan include the expansion and improvements in mainstream education, political and legal reform, and improvement in the professional sector. Of these, education is the most important because it is by far the most potent, strongest and surest tool to create peace and development in a nation resulting in economic and cultural progress.
Though there has been progress, with the drafting of the Constitution as a living document to guide national policies and strategies, and the signing of various international resolutions by the government, the gains made in each area are constantly threatened by the actions of the anti-government elements, and their pursuit of power politics.
We believe a more intensified focus on education for all Afghans (women, men, girls and boys), political will to put peace and security for all before any personal or political gains, and international pressure on the government to honor its pledges to the international community can help make any positive changes sustainable for furthering peace and progress in Afghanistan.
3. What are some of the main challenges to peace within Afghanistan? Are there differences between urban and rural areas?
The main challenges to peace in Afghanistan are multi-fold; they include:
- Low level of education of all Afghans.
- Lack of able leadership.
- Exclusion and marginalization of the human resource potential of women.
- Interference of different regional and international powers, who have their own strategic interests in Afghanistan, leading to factions and the inability to proceed with a unified strategy.
- Fragmented donor support, which results in duplication of interventions, abuse and waste of resources, corruption, short term band-aid fixes rather than fundamental and long-term solutions to problems, implementation of donor-dictated interventions that are irrelevant to the context or even unacceptable to beneficiaries, which often become a cause for suspicion and rejection.
- Rampant corruption among all levels of the international community and government officials.
- Very little progress reaching rural areas, which results in urban migration, multiplying urban management problems, as well as poverty and resentment in the rural areas, leading to people joining the anti-government elements.
4. In what ways can peace be developed in Afghanistan? And how can both Afghans and the international community provide support?
I believe that peace can be advanced in Afghanistan if Afghan leaders genuinely pledge commitment to putting national interests before personal interests, and then honor their pledges. Afghans need to break out of the expectation of quick fixes and make up their minds to work hard to rebuild Afghanistan as a model of a modern Islamic nation capable of holding its own in the international community of nations.
They need to stop stretching out their hands to receive easy money from donors and charitable organizations. They need to put on their thinking caps and decide what they need, and learn to take action to forge their own peace and progress. Afghans have resources and skills; they just need to remind themselves about their strengths and learn to harness them and work collectively to make them productive.
I believe all Afghans yearn for peace but merely wishing for it without taking action toward its realization, is useless. I believe Islam is a powerful and universally acceptable agent for peace in the context of Afghanistan. So far it has been used to justify war; it is time Afghans decide to learn about Islam as a way of life that protects human rights, including the rights of women, men, and children; as a democratic and fair political and judicial system; as a system that preaches civic responsibility and fair play, respect for human dignity, tolerance for religious and ethnic differences and coexistence; protection of nature and responsible use of natural resources.
Afghans need to decide to become true ambassadors of Islam, demonstrating by example that Islam shows people how to live with justice and integrity, in peace and harmony, while respecting the laws of the country and respecting the rule of law and human dignity. The fight for all Afghans must be against the ugly perception of the Islamic life as a violent, subversive, and cruel way of life.
I believe education should be at the forefront of all efforts and maximum investment should be made to ensure quality and universality, because education is the most fundamental solution of the problems faced by Afghans. Every Afghan should make it a sacred duty to educate her/himself as well as their family, friends, and others around them. Education should not be seen in a very rigid and restricted manner, but different and creative solutions that suit different contexts should be developed to ensure no Afghan remains in the darkness of ignorance.
I believe Afghans need to value tradition and culture as their identity. Likewise, they also need to examine their cultural practices and agree to reject those that are against the teachings of Islam and counter-productive and detrimental to peace and harmony. This is the only way they can move with the times, and not remain among the least developed of nations. Afghans are a proud nation of people; they just need to remember to do more things they can be proud of.
The international community should coordinate its efforts so that the impact of their interventions is more visible; the efforts should be collaborative rather than competitive. They should hold any government in power in Afghanistan accountable to the resolutions it has signed to ensure the rights and fair treatment of all its citizens — women, men and children. They should take into account the reports and information shared by civil society to cross check the claims of the government.
They should focus on rebuilding the larger basic infrastructure and insist on engaging Afghans in the planning and the decisions instead of thinking up and dictating the solutions to Afghan issues. They should monitor government spending of funds more closely to ensure transparency and proper use of resources. They should support home-grown solutions to issues because those are the ones that have any chance of being sustainable. They should use the resources, strengths and potential already present in Afghanistan, to enable peace and progress. For instance, they should invest more intensively in promoting sports for peace building.
Afghans are naturally inclined towards sports and are naturally competitive. If sports at village, district, province, national and international levels are supported, it will attract many young people, giving them a medium to channel their energies positively, provide them a constructive and healthy way to use their time, make them disciplined, provide them with a possibility to succeed and make sports a profession. Education can also be informally combined with formal sports to ensure all sports participants are literate and well informed.
5. What are your aspirations for peace in Afghanistan and how are you offering your support?
I hope that the younger generation will learn to break out of the pattern of corruption, violence, and inane enmities and instead focus their energies on positive and constructive action that brings peace and security. I would like to see a future Afghanistan where progress is equitable and sustainable, and where the youth live with hopes and dreams, which they believe they can realize. I would like them to understand that looking back at the past is a waste of time and energy, and it is their responsibility now to invest in the future; to be committed to educate themselves and others, and to live by the principles of fair play and justice. I would like every Afghan to take pride in being an Afghan, and demonstrate in her/his person the best qualities that they would like Afghanistan to be known for.
If you would like to find out more about AWEC or make contact with them please visit their website.