WAW Gala Reflections
Women for Afghan Women’s 10th Anniversary Event in NYC Stressed Progress on Women’s Rights in Afghanistan and Exhorts the U.S. Not to Abandon the Country
On October 20, 2011, Women for Afghan (WAW) commemorated its 10th anniversary with a gala event featuring internationally renowned Christiane Amanpour as keynote speaker; leaders of the women's movement, Eleanor Smeal and Gloria Steinem as gala co-chairs; WAW Executive Director Manizha Naderi; and other leading human rights advocates. Over 250 people attended. The event was generously sponsored by The Sister Fund, Time Magazine and other supportive individuals and institutions. The event included a successful silent auction which included many donated items including photographs by award-winning photographers Jodi Bieber and Lynsey Addario and rugs and jewellery hand-crafted by women residing in shelters run by Women for Afghan Women.
In a stirring speech, which brought down the house, Christiane Amanpour talked about the progress in education and women’s rights that was made in Afghanistan “before the world turned its eyes elsewhere.” WAW Executive Director Manizha Naderi, who spends most of the year in Afghanistan, pointed out that this progress was possible because the majority of Afghans want women’s rights, a crux of civil society, to advance. “Afghan human rights organizations like WAW are becoming a force for justice.” Concrete evidence of progress are the numbers of women and girls WAW has saved from prison, “honor” killings, underage marriages, trafficking, and other appalling fates.
WAW honored The Sister Fund, a private women's foundation which played a critical role in the founding of the organization. WAW began in April, 2001 with an international conference at CUNY in NYC to advocate for women then under Taliban rule. Over the past ten years, WAW has helped thousands of individual women and children in Afghanistan and the US through its shelters and counseling centers. WAW’s program Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, has trained 35,000 local citizens and government officials in Afghanistan on gender equity in civil society.
Today WAW’s staff of over 400 operate a community outreach center in Queens and eight Family Guidance Centers (FGC) and shelters for women and girls in Afghanistan. In the past year alone, WAW opened 3 new FGC/shelters, 2 new Children’s Support Centers, which are residences for children who had been living in prisons with their mothers, and two halfway houses for women who cannot return home when they transition from shelters and prisons. These facilities operate despite the increasing strength of the Taliban in other areas and a devastating decline in security.
A 15-year-old girl, Nelab Nusrat, here for the gala from Afghanistan, put a human face on WAW’s achievements when she described her life before she entered WAW’s CSC. The daughter of a man who committed suicide and a women in prison for kidnapping, Nelab and her two younger siblings had lurched from misery to misery. Their futures contained forced marriages, no education, grinding poverty. She had run out of hope. After 2 years living at the WAW Children's Support Center, she speaks English, is an A student in school, and plans to become a lawyer “to help my people”.
WAW’s contribution was recognized in a videotaped congratulatory message by Melanne Verveer, United States Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. Recalling her visit to the shelter in Kabul, she noted the government’s “enormous respect and gratitude for the work that WAW does every day to raise awareness on the issues and challenges facing Afghan women and girls and for all you do to protect them from the violence that is all around them.”
Every speaker elaborated on Amanpour’s theme that women in the world remain second class citizens. Verveer called violence against women “a global pandemic” that we must combat and end. “It is not a private matter or even a cultural issue. It is a crime wherever it is committed.”
The event took place when Secretary of State Clinton was in Afghanistan, reportedly encouraging the Afghan government to continue to pursue “reconciliation” with the Taliban, which WAW believes is incompatible with her earlier commitment, “We will never abandon the women of Afghanistan.” Huma Safi, WAW program manager in Afghanistan, stressed that “Our work and the work of other women’s human rights NGOs will come to an end if the Taliban gain control of the country. We cannot trust the Taliban, who will again impose intolerable conditions over the lives of women and children.” These conditions include bans on education, income-producing work and even medical attention for all females. Gloria Steinem wonders why governments are negotiating with the Taliban at all and suggests that the women of Afghanistan tell the US and Karzai, "Negotiate with us!"