ActionAid has been working in Afghanistan since 2002, with a particular focus on helping women and girls stand up for their rights and take charge of their lives through education and training – covering everything from legal and civil rights to reading, writing and numeracy, and specialist skills such as carpet making.
But working in a country such as this is extremely difficult. Religious and tribal pressures, the continual threat of insurgent violence and extreme poverty all take their toll.
Despite all our security measures and safety procedures, three female members of ActionAid staff were killed in 2006. In July 2010 a female community facilitator was murdered.
"For me the big issue is security. When I leave home in the morning I don’t know that I will make it back in the evening. Something might happen,” says Dr Tahera Alemi, ActionAid’s women’s rights officer.
When we go out to the communities to talk about women’s rights we face such a strong reaction. Men think that we are empowering women against them. It is really an uphill struggle.
One of our most important projects has been to train hundreds of women in paralegal skills, so that they can help female survivors of violence gain access to justice – something that is rarely easy in Afghanistan. Mobina, 30, received paralegal training from ActionAid.
“It has been very important and useful for me,” she says. “I use what I have learnt to help women who come to me with their problems. We were given training in psychological behaviour, which has been very helpful to me in counselling and supporting women who have been raped.”
Once trained, the paralegals establish community groups and educate other women about their rights. In the first six months of 2011 alone the paralegals handled 240 cases, and successfully resolved 127 of them. In the long term, a network of committed women like Mobina will continue to provide support for survivors of violence in their communities.
ActionAid also helps women who are escaping domestic violence in other ways, for example by supporting our partner, Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan (HAWCA), which has set up a women’s centre in Kabul.
Angiza (not her real name), 18, lives in the shelter after suffering beatings and threats from her uncle. “I am here because my life is in danger,” she says. “After my father died, my mother got married for a second time.
Now my uncle is in charge of me and he beats me. He got me engaged to someone who I don’t know and I don’t want to marry him. My mother said she could not keep me safe if I did not marry. So I ran away and came here. I feel safe here.
Hundreds of women under threat of violence like Angiza have found a safe space at the centre, where they receive meals, clothes, medical assistance, and education and vocational training. “A woman who has run away from home and goes to a stranger’s house has committed a crime according to our supreme court,” says Selay Ghaffar, director of HAWCA. “Most of those in the shelters are young girls who are running away from abuse, forced marriage or child marriage.”