News: Afghan women hold development conference
Story by 1st Lt. Holly Hess
PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The first Panjshir women’s development conference was held here Oct. 4 for more than 110 women across the province.
Panjshir Deputy Gov. Abdul Rahman Kabiri; the line directors for religious affairs and women’s affairs; the Panjshir Director of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; and several other provincial government officials and council members also attended the conference.
The conference helped the women and people of Panjshir better identify the concerns, issues and priorities of the women themselves, said Elizabeth Smithwick, U.S. Agency for International Development lead field officer at Panjshir PRT and acting PRT director.
“The conference received support from the provincial government and was done in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner in order to gain tacit approval from the religious community,” said Smithwick.
The conference, funded by an Afghan Women’s Empowerment grant, was an idea that was developed this past February.
“The international community helped make it possible. The Panjshiri women made it happen,” said Smithwick.
Smithwick said the Panjshiri women coordinated everything to include transportation to the conference, the invites to women around the province, the logo design and the theme: ‘Where we are today and where we are going tomorrow.’
“They did it all,” Smithwick continued.
Representatives from the provincial districts were present to discuss and determine the current provincial picture for the women.
“The women identified and prioritized major concerns followed by discussions of plans to move forward to address these issues,” Smithwick said.
“Everyone that we expected participated,” said Nazul, secretary of the Panjshir women’s shura, through an interpreter. “It went well. It took everyone’s attention and announced our association in an official way with the support of the people and the government.”
Nazul also said the conference established a stronger relationship with the directors and raised support for their organization.
“Now we are receiving proposals and we can help with future issues,” said Nazul.
“This conference is the first stage in a strategic process,” said Smithwick. “The conference will be followed by monthly sector meetings, which will eventually lead to the establishment of district women’s centers.”
Smithwick said the initial creation, content and focus of the district centers will be up to the women.
“Once they show sustainability, they will have reached a benchmark to attract funds to build the physical structures,” Smithwick said.
“The conference was very liberating for the women of Panjshir,” said Nazul. “It showed our ability to deal with various issues and that we have a voice and should be involved in the future of Panjshir.”