October 2009 E-Newsletter

Welcome!

Welcome to the second issue of our quarterly e-newsletter, Itihad-e-Zan, which means "Community of Women": all of WAW's news, stories, updates and advocacy messages are rooted in the lives, experiences, opinions and priorities of the Afghan women and girls we are privileged to serve. We timed this issue to coincide with the opening of our Children's Support Center in Kabul. We hope you read the updates, forward the e-news to your friends, and consider a gift, small or large, to help us in our efforts to secure, protect, and advance the human rights of Afghan women and girls.

FEATURE

Semin's Story

This e-newsletter features Semin. She and her children are pictured in our header graphic in this issue.

In 2007, Women for Afghan Women opened a shelter in Mazar-e-Sharef. One of our first employees there was a mom in her late 30s, Semin. She had been residing in our shelter in Kabul with her three children.

Semin graduated from Kabul high school in 1989 and went on to be employed in a local vocational school. Over the next 10 years, she advanced in her job and met a very nice professional young man, Rateb. He was employed as a traffic policeman. She met his family and they approved of her. She found them respectable and looked forward to being included by them. Semin and Rateb became engaged and married in 1999. Their future appeared promising. Both were mature and educated professionals.

The early years of Semin's marriage were happy. She and Rateb had three children. Living in Afghanistan under Taliban rule became increasingly difficult for Semin. She was no longer allowed to work and feared for her daughters' future now that girls were being denied an education. She and Rateb decided to leave and emigrated to Iran. They lived there happily for five years but were homesick and wanted to help rebuild their native country.

The Iranian Baloch tribe attacked the family on the border of Iran and Afghanistan as they tried to return home. All their money and possessions were stolen. In addition, Rateb was badly beaten and sustained major head injuries.

Once back in Kabul, Rateb's mental health deteriorated. The family was in economic distress and Rateb could not find employment. The psychological stress of the family's reality along with the seemingly-endless war and violence in the region exacerbated Rateb's brain trauma and he became irrational and violent.

"That was the end of my happiness and the start of my misfortune," Semin says. Rateb set the family's clothes and possessions on fire, poured all the cooked food in the garbage claiming it was poison, stopped using the car and forced the family to walk long distances. He beat Semin and the children constantly, and forbade them from seeking medical care. Semin stayed awake most nights. "I was afraid that he would kill me or my children," she says.

The beatings were so excessive that the police finally stepped in and arrested Rateb. After nine months in jail, authorities realized that Rateb had serious mental health problems and released him. Rateb's father tried to get him mental health treatment but Rateb refused. Semin's father-in-law then begged her to tell her side of the family about Rateb's problems, and to take the children and go live with her brothers. He was concerned that Rateb would kill them all.

For months, Rateb was able to prevent Semin from going to visit her brothers. When he finally let her visit, he kept the children with him, beating them daily. Eventually, police intervened again and removed the children, taking them and Semin to Women for Afghan Women. WAW helped Semin get her husband admitted to a hospital but he escaped after one day. Her brothers were too poor to support her and she continued to be terrified that her husband would find and kill her and the children.

Semin and her children were surviving in the Kabul shelter, but she wanted more for her family. WAW staff were impressed by Semin's determination to once again be self-sufficient and to give her children a future. When WAW opened the shelter in Mazar-e-Sharef they offered her a job as a caretaker in this new program. Semin continues to show admirable strength and resilience. Rather than being bitter or beaten by all she has been through, she remains optimistic. "Now I can earn enough money to support my children. I am very thankful to WAW because now my children can go to school. I am hopeful for their future and I hope one day my husband will recover and we can all live together again," Semin says. Semin finds strength every day in helping others become safe and is an amazing member of the WAW family.



Semin

Update from Afghanistan

We are very excited to announce the opening on October 12th of our newest project, The Child Support Center, CSC, in Kabul.

One of the first children who will live in the CSC is Obaida, who was sold three years ago by her father, Wahid. Wahid, an addict, borrowed money from his neighbor to build a house. Unable to pay back the loan, Wahid sold his seven-year-old daughter to the neighbor, who was in his mid-thirties, for 40,000 Afghanis ($800 U.S. dollars). The neighbor intended to force Obaida to marry him once she reached puberty.

Obaida's sister, Maryam, alerted WAW about Obaida's plight. Maryam was also sold by Wahid when she was a young girl to a blind cleric who abused her on a regular basis. She fled to a WAW shelter where staff are assisting her in getting a divorce. WAW notified the police and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission about Obaida's situation. They immediately went to the house, removed Obaida, and sent her to a WAW shelter for safety. Obaida is currently enrolled in a private school where she studies very hard and dreams of becoming a pilot. She will be with WAW until she is grown and on her way to a productive, self-sufficient, independent life.

Incarcerated and rescued children with no opportunities now have a whole new world of possibilities thanks to the partnership, vision, and hard work of WAW, the European Commission, Save the Children and the prison mothers. However, additional support is needed. WAW is now reaching out and asking you to partner with us to help ensure that this project succeeds and that these children have a future. For as little as $50 a month you can sponsor a child. This monthly donation will pay for your child's school fees, school supplies and clothing. In addition, a pen pal relationship will develop between you and your child. The student will send a monthly letter to you updating you on his or her progress. This is an opportunity to directly participate in this vitally needed project and to make a difference in the life of a child. Please help Obaida and others like her continue their education and look forward to a solid, productive future. Please send an email to Manizha Naderi for more information on how to help one of these beautiful children!




Obaida is one of the children being served by the CSC.
She and many like her would benefit from sponsorship of someone like you!
Please send an email to Manizha Naderi for more information.

About the Child Support Center: Women for Afghan Women has been trying for several years to create a healthy, supportive option for the children who are confined to living in prison with their mothers. Like their mothers, they endure miserable living conditions and have limited or no access to recreational activities, education, or training. Thanks to funding from the European Commission we are now able to offer a carefully crafted alternative for these prison children and other children living alone in our shelters.

Over the last year we have found a house, finished major renovations to make it very welcoming for the new residents, and furnished it for up to 40 children ages five and older. Thirty of the children will come from the prison, seven will be from the WAW shelters and three openings will remain for emergency placements. The CSC has a counseling room, recreation room, and (very importantly) a playground. It is important to us that the children view and experience their new home as a happy positive place in contrast to the serious deprivation of the prisons.

This project was finally ready to start when Save the Children conducted a workshop for CSC staff on concerning the legal rights of the children, the likely Psycho-Social issues of children who have endured detention and are now undergoing separation from their parent, and how to assist abandoned and seriously abused children. Save the Children Norway will continue to collaborate with us by conducting ongoing intensive training for Center staff.

The final partners in this important new project are the prison mothers. The CSC project manager personally met with the mothers to explain the new Center and to get their approval for the relocation of their children. This is a most delicate process because the mothers' consent is essential to the success of the project. It is only because of their great love for their children that they can temporarily give them up for a better opportunity. Their sacrifice is commendable.


Update from Queens

The work of the Queens staff continues to blossom with unwavering dedication to the mission of WAW to empower Afghan women. The Queens office provides social services, ESL classes, introductory computer courses, tutoring sessions for children of all ages, and the newly-introduced citizenship assistance course held on Wednesday afternoons.

Our new intern, Mehwish Sarwari, has transformed the Girls' Leadership Program to cater to the interests and passions of younger Afghan women and girls. This new addition to our programming is set to begin in mid-October. Participants and volunteers have been registered and are eager to start the workshops.

The summer months were filled with activity as the staff participated in community events. With the Muslim holiday of Ramadan starting in late August, Eid-al-fitr events, including one hosted by Mayor Bloomberg and the Office of Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, filled the agenda. Our case worker, Naheed Bahram, represented WAW at a number of speaking engagements which included an interview with RAI T.V. on the day of Afghanistan's Presidential election, a political science class at Hofstra University and a special screening of the film Afghan Star at Stony Brook University.

WAW was also honored to serve as co-host along with CONNECT and Out Against Abuse for a workshop on domestic violence that informed participants of the resources and pathways available to people in abusive relationships. On September 28, Program Manager Shakila Hamidi organized a fabulous cultural event at the Queens Public Library in Long Island City. This event, "Eid Festival 2009," received rave reviews from many guests who attended the program. Almost all of the women who regularly visit our Center, attend our ESL classes, and access other WAW services took an active role in organizing this gala event. Their pride in showcasing WAW to the larger community was more than apparent. There was a great turnout, trays of scrumptious food and live entertainment. In addition, there were provocative and chilling presentations about the human rights violations faced by women. We hope the event will keep the community talking for months to come.



Queens staffers Shakila Hamidi, Shazia Akberzai, Naheed Samadi,
and Mehwish Sarwar at WAW's Eid celebration.

Update from Afgan Women's Fund

Several years ago the Malalai girls school in Deh Now village of Logar Province, opened to elementary-level students. Initially, classes were held in tents or in the outdoors as there was no permanent structure available. In the spring of 2008, the AWF built a 12-classroom school for these dedicated girls. This spring, as a result of this new space, the Malalai school was able to expand and offer classes for middle-school-level students.

However, the girls who graduated from the Malalai school had to be home schooled or sent to another village if they wanted to continue their education. Since there was now an adequate permanent building, village officials appealed to the Ministry of Education to allow them to add high school grades. As of last week, the school is officially recognized as high school by Ministry of Education and some high schoolers are already attending the expanded curriculum.

Last year, as the school was being built, there were 585 students. Now, with 1,200 students, the school operates in two shifts. Some classes study in the hallways, which were designed to be wide for this just this purpose. The hunger and enthusiasm for learning is immense. Given the opportunity, these girls will continue to learn, and dream of having a professional and productive future.

The AWF realized that giving these students a roof over their heads was only a starting point. To further aid their pursuits, AWF has provided the school with furniture (a rare commodity), as well as four computers, a printer, three computer desks, and a generator (an even rarer commodity). The Afghan Women's Fund is committed to continuing to build, equip, and give on-going support to literacy and girls' education throughout Afghanistan.



Sher Mohammed Khan students studying outdoors before the school was built.

The AWF continues to not only build schools but to support them once they are started. The Sher Mohamad Khan school in Kulangar Logar, which was built last year, is thriving and has over 700 students now. In addition, four literacy classes for adult women are held in the afternoon. The AWF donated computers and furniture for 100 students to this school.

Other schools are receiving ongoing support as well. AWF provided the girls' school in Mir Bacha Kot with four new computers, a printer, computer desks and chairs. The girls' school in Istalif received four computers, a printer, a generator, and three computer desks.



The new Sher Mohammed Khan school building.

While the women's shoras are working hard, the AWF is continuing to locate markets in the West. They already have connected the shoras with some successful businesswomen in the US and Europe. All are hoping that the shoras will have a profitable year as they network with other women worldwide, building strength one connection at a time.



A shora member weaving a carpet.

The AWF has negotiated to form another women's shora in Paktika, a rural area near Khost and Gardez. This will be the first and only shora for women in the area. The shora will start soon, as soon as the supplies arrive. The women are optimistic and committed to this project. They can't wait to get to work.



Items made by Khair Khana shora members.

SPECIAL STATEMENT

WAW Special Statement on Troop Levels in Afghanistan

Keeping our Promise to Afghan Women

WAW Executive Director and all board members except one are in consensus behind the following statement. WAW’s great strength is that we are able to stand in unity behind our mission in spite of fundamental differences.

    Women for Afghan Women (WAW) is an NGO in the United States and Afghanistan that protects and advances the human rights of Afghan women. We have been in Afghanistan since 2001, forming literacy classes, building schools for girls, and running women's counseling centers and shelters in three Afghan cities, all with local staff. Thus, we have witnessed both the post-Taliban revitalization of Afghan society and the current deterioration.

    The women and girls of Afghanistan are among the worst off people in the world. In just over 2 years, WAW has handled over 1000 cases, including victims of brutal domestic violence, girls as young as 8 who were sold to men or forced into marriage, sexually trafficked women and girls, women and girls who were raped and then tried in court for having committed adultery, and girls exchanged in "baad" transactions where a female child becomes payment for a crime one family has committed against another.



Girls dance to celebrate graduation from a computer class
at a WAW-founded school in Herat Injeel

    In 2001, many Americans were outraged that the Bush administration cynically used the plight of women to justify the invasion of Afghanistan. Now WAW insists that the Obama administration factor their situation into the debates about U.S. troops. When we think about troop withdrawal, we shudder at what will happen to women and girls, to the thousands helped by NGOs like WAW and to the millions who will be subjected to even more heinous abuse than they suffer now.

Even at current troop levels, we find it difficult to do our work. While news from Afghanistan suggests that the Taliban have a foothold mainly in the south, we see Taliban gaining strength all over the country. WAW has been unable to get international donors to fund the construction of a wall around a girls' school we built in the Eastern province of Logar because the Taliban presence makes it too dangerous for their representatives to travel there. The director of the local Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) office in Kunduz, a northern province, sobbed when describing the situation of women in the area, and the provincial governor wrote to support her request that we open a center there. But we are worried because the Taliban are in Kunduz as well. Women in several districts of Kapisa, a province just north of Kabul where we run a center and shelter, cannot get to us because Taliban have taken hold. The director of the local office of the MoWA braves these danger zones in a burqa to talk to the women. She told us, "Afghanistan needs the world here longer. When our army and police are strong enough and paid enough to secure Afghanistan, you can leave, but right now we need you."

    Our experiences contradict the idea that the majority of Afghans want foreign troops out. Although justifiably critical of rampant bombing of civilians and apparent U.S. support for an often corrupt government, most women we’ve spoken to want our troops to stay to help them build a stable Afghanistan, free of the Taliban.

    Some Americans cite the situation of women in Afghanistan as a reason to abandon the cause. Why should the U.S. make sacrifices for a country that treats women as property and opposes educating female children? And many insist that achieving even a semblance of democracy in Afghanistan is a pipe dream. Of course, we cannot justify the terrible treatment of women, and all our work addresses human rights violations against them. But we can attempt an explanation. As a result of 8 years of misdirected development aid (following two decades of a destructive civil war), the unemployment rate in Afghanistan is 40%, living conditions are subhuman, men are desperate to feed their families and bitterly disappointed at the failure of the U.S. to fulfill its promises or provide security.

Yet, WAW makes progress and sees hope. Male abusers come to our centers for counseling, and many women are able to return home safely. We regularly hear men advocate for education for girls. Recently, an all male group of village elders sent us a letter imploring us to build a school for their daughters: "We promise we will send our children to the girls' school to study and to learn. Because we want them to have knowledge and also learn about Islam and world affairs so they can serve their area, their region and their Islamic country." Despite this yearning, which we see all over the country, according to the country's revised Millennium Development Goals all primary-school-age children will not be in class until 2020. Huge strides could be made in Afghanistan if local people were paid to build small schools in their villages and teachers were trained to work in them. And we remind the experts who insist that Afghanistan can never function as a democracy: in the first presidential election in 2004, 70% of eligible people voted, 41% of them women.

    Our work in Afghanistan has shown us that progress is possible not because we want it to happen but because the Afghan people want it for themselves, for their children, and for their country. But progress will take time. It will require patience on the part of the world and a commitment to development that must equal if not surpass military action. For starters, we must see to it that:

. Every village has schools for girls and boys and trained teachers.

. All Afghans have access to clinics or hospitals.

. Army and police personnel, teachers, and doctors are paid a living wage.

. NGOs working to secure and advance human rights and empower those whose rights have been violated receive adequate funding.

. The 42 countries present in Afghanistan agree to regularly evaluate a coordinated strategy to strengthen all aspects of reconstruction.

    Women for Afghan Women deeply regrets having a position in favor of maintaining, even increasing troops. We are not advocates for war, and conditions did not have to reach this dire point, but we believe that withdrawing troops means abandoning 15 million women and children to madmen who will sacrifice them to their lust for power. We predict that if Afghanistan falls again to the Taliban, we will once more see on our high definition TV screens, in the comfort of our American homes, women and girls being hauled into the Kabul football stadium to be beaten and executed for having committed acts that would not be considered criminal by any international human rights laws, including those signed by Afghanistan.

WAW IN THE NEWS

News Articles Featuring WAW

Check out these links featuring WAW!

July 14, 2009: The LA Times features WAW- "Afghan victims of abuse find refuge"

September 24, 2009: WAW Featured on CNN on the Web and on television- "Afghan women hiding for their lives" Click here to watch the video.

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