News: Women’s Shura Held in Farah City in Support of Women’s Rights
Story by Lt.j.g. Matthew Stroup
FARAH CITY, Afghanistan – Fifty Farahi women met with provincial leadership and members of civil society to discuss women’s rights and ongoing women’s issues in Farah province in conjunction with the “16 Days” movement to end violence against women and girls in Farah City on Dec. 6.
The “16 Days” movement is a global movement to end violence against women and girls. The 16 days link Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, in a sustained campaign to raise awareness, generate conversation in society and take concrete steps to end violence against women and girls.
The event was led and coordinated by the provincial Director of Women’s Affairs (DOWA), Leiluma Sediqui, and was attended by Farah National Directorate of Security (NDS) Chief, Gen. Abdul Samad Shams, Meshrano Jirga member Balqais Roshan, head of the Provincial Council Hajii Basir Khan, the deputy Director of Labor and Social Affairs (DDOLSA), five members of the Provincial Council and representatives from the Provincial Governor’s office. Military and civilian leadership from Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah and the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also attended the meeting.
One of the goals of the meeting was to hear and address the challenges that women face in the community, so that local leadership could help to address their concerns.
“The purpose of this meeting is for the DOWA to provide her plan to local women,” said Provincial Council member Shahlla Abubakar from Farah’s 3rd District. “We will also talk about what steps the council has taken in the past to support the women of Farah.The women will also share their issues with us so that we can share their concerns at meeting in Kabul with other leaders.”
“We are very, very excited about this campaign,” said Ms. Abubakar. “Women are encouraged that someone is listening to their issues and that the government is trying to find ways to support us. Up until now, women here didn’t know that they had the right to do something. Now we are talking to them and they are thankful that their voices are being heard.”
Abubakar was quite clear when asked what concerns the women of Farah province have. “Violence is the greatest concern for women in Farah,” she said. “Additionally, women need jobs to help support their families. The availability of workshops to help them build skills like rug making and handicrafts is also a priority for them.”
Gen. Abdul Samad Shams, NDS Chief in Farah province, who attended on behalf of Provincial Governor Mohammed Akram Khpalwak who was on travel, addressed the women’s security concerns at the outset of the meeting.
“Men and women should be working together here,” he said. “Afghanistan has a history of mistreating women, and the government has been trying to solve the problems they face. There are rumors that the government isn’t addressing these issues, but this isn’t true. They have been working on women’s issues for the past ten years.”
He continued, “Terrorist groups here are trying to discourage women from accessing their rights, though in many places women are working in cooperation with men, especially the ANA who has many female members.There is a plan for 2014 and we know that there will be an enduring presence in Afghanistan. But, it is our job to support and protect women and their rights.”
Sediqui, the leader of the event, took the opportunity to address the Farahi women in the room. The major topics she initially discussed were the responsibility of the provincial council to support women’s issues, civil society and international community support for women’s rights, the success of awareness campaigns amongst men and women and several cases of murder and suicide amongst women.
She also shared a thorough report on ongoing initiatives and activities from her office. She is currently working with NGOs to propose training programs for women, developing workshops on legal rights issues, coordinating for counselling and psychological support and working with the Afghan government and the coalition to develop long term programs to support developing women’s programs for the next 10-15 year.
Sediqui also spoke about her meetings with women in prison, female ANP members and meetings at the hospital with burn victims, victims of abuse and those who have attempted suicide. She also gave an harrowing example of a 12-year old girl who was found dead in a well after nearly two months of being missing.
Issues and concerns of violence against women were expressed by all leaders at the meeting, including some who called on further government initiative in the investigation of the causes of death of many young women.
While many of the issues that were raised and discussed at the meeting are challenging economic and cultural issues that are difficult to address directly, there is cause for cautious optimism in Farah. When the coalition arrived in Farah, these types of meetings, where women could meet to discuss real-life issues, let alone discuss them with their governmental leadership, were not a possibility. The fact is that despite ongoing challenges for women, many provincial and district level leaders have shown a willingness to address women’s rights issues.
“The progress here is sometimes slow, but for the women here in Farah, and the rest of Afghanistan, who benefit in a very real way from these events, it is worth the work and sacrifice to help facilitate change,” said Andrea Procopio, a USAID regional health and education officer from Herat who previously worked with PRT Farah and has been working in western Afghanistan for 15 months. “There are no easy answers here, but it is encouraging to see glimmers of hope.”
Members of the PRT work hand-in-hand with provincial and municipal leaders as they continue to develop processes to support Farahis through the PRT’s line liaison program. U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nicole Utley, the command’s assistant operations officer, works directly with Sediqui to help facilitate her efforts in Farah. Recently, Sediqui used the PRT’s radio facility to address women in Farah regarding women’s issues in Farah including those topics that were discussed at the shura.
“As a young American woman it is encouraging to work with the female leadership in Farah to help facilitate the development of women’s programs here,” said Utley. “Progress is certainly being made despite the challenges that these women face.”
PRT Farah’s mission is to train, advise and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah Province, Afghanistan. Their civil-military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). For more information about the PRT follow their page on Defense Video and Information Distribution System (DVIDS) at www.dvidshub.net/unit/PRTF or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PRTFRH.