PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Paktika’s director of women’s affairs introduced herself to the women of Urgun District April 13 and 14 to promote an upcoming women’s shura.
The DoWA, Dr. Bibi Hawa, asked women from Urgun villages to choose female representatives for the shura, which is similar to a town hall meeting.
The men’s shura in Urgun meets on a regular basis and is a venue for them to voice their concerns and discuss major decisions. If the women of Urgun work together to form a female shura, it will be the first of its kind in Paktika.
In each village, the women gathered in a small room to meet the DoWA, and to elect shura representatives.
“Try to help each other,” Hawa told the women. “This is from Islam and the Quran. Especially try to take care of the widows.”
Widows who have lost their husbands due to war or illness struggle to be the sole providers for their families. One widow in the village of Balish Kalay, said her daughter helps by making clothes to sell at the local bazaar.
“Get together and have a meeting,” the DoWA said. “Pick a leader. It’s time for us to help ourselves. For how long should we look at our males and ask them for help? We need to stand up and help ourselves. For how long will our children be hungry? They need food. We have to provide for them.”
Although the DoWA’s time in the district was limited to two days, she made the most of her visit by recording radio messages for the Urgun women she could not reach in person.
Through the radio, she explained how other provinces and districts in Afghanistan have female shuras so the women can solve rights, health and education problems.
“I hope you will make a shura in Urgun District like your brothers have in each district center,” she told the women through the radio. “The shura is very important. You will share your problems with each other, and you can find a way to make your future better by this kind of shura.”
Hawa said she plans to arrange different courses like tailoring and embroidery especially for Urgun females. One common issue the women face is lack of education. The girls may only attend grades 1 to 6, while the boys may attend through high school.
“You ladies have to go to school and learn,” Hawa said. “You can then have a female teacher on your own instead of asking someone else to come and help.”
According to Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team cultural advisors, Afghan culture prevents girls from being taught by male teachers once they reach a certain age.
“I’m not telling you what to do. The Americans are not telling you what to do. You ladies have to get together and try to help yourselves,” she explained. “For how long should we receive help? For how long will you sit at home and say the Taliban is going to come and bother us or kill us? No. That’s not going to happen.
“You ladies have to stand up, help each other, go to school, learn something and make something for yourself. Please let your kids go to school.”
Hawa said she is currently working with the governor, as well as the ministers of both women’s affairs and education, to establish a high school for girls in Urgun. Although the DoWA is opening a midwife school in the district, she said the women of Urgun were not enrolling.
Hawa said she would not register girls from other provinces to attend the midwife school because they would not stay in Paktika to help the local women. Before leaving each village, Hawa always reassured the women that she would be back to check on them.
“Any type of help that you ladies want, just let me know and I’ll be happy to help,” Hawa said. “As far as I can, I’ll do it.”