08 March 2004
by Devaki Shresta
Devaki Shrestha (Nepal), is a UN Volunteers Programme Officer who is currently serving as a Specialist with the World Food Programme in Afghanistan. With a Masters Degree in Science from Tribhuvan University, in Katmandu, Nepal and a Diploma in Social Development from the Coady International Institute, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, Devaki has been in Afghanistan since July 1998 and has seen first hand how Afghanistan’s women have stepped forward to become a key players in the development of their nation. On occasion of the 2003 International Women’s Day, Devaki submitted the following article.
I have had the opportunity to work in Afghanistan for over five years during two different regimes. Under the previous Taliban regime, I worked with women in health activities as the women were allowed to participate in health and family support programmes. Their participation in community work was one of the most sensitive issues at that time. Now, the restriction is no longer there and in the changed context, I have been overwhelmed with how emancipation has evolved. The effort starts at home, as they truly believe that they will learn something which will help them support their families under this new environment. The new transitional government initiated some positive steps to create and expand opportunities for women. As a result, organizations have started to encourage women to come out of their shell.
I have had interaction with a few women's groups and organizations, who are full of enthusiasm. Once, we had a meeting with one of the first women NGOs in Badghis province, who decided to start literacy classes for women. We’ve met several times in the process of preparation. In the end, the group succeeded to plan literacy classes and some life-skill trainings for 119 illiterate women. I am convinced, the participants will successfully complete their seven month course. Seeing women in the classes, the school teachers have been motivated to help their less privileged sisters. They started other literacy programmes for 277 women. Furthermore, they started to help their sisters in the community as volunteers. They even celebrated International Women’s day last March 8th with the help of WFP and other UN agencies and NGOs.
The Governor and other male elders from Shura (village council) and the local Mullah also expressed their support for women’s day for the first time in history. A small but significant beginning.
Another significant contribution, which has impressed me is the work being done by the Hirat Women Council. The council is open for the voluntary members who wish to contribute something to their women folks. This has encouraged women to come out of the house and contribute to their own development. It has helped to motivate other women to participate in social functions and self-help activities. I was very impressed by all the women members (around 200) of the Hirat Women Council who had gathered to mark their graduation day after attending seven months long course of vocational skill and literacy supported by WFP.I proudly visit districts for the performance of the school feeding project. All the young girls were happy to see me and they wait for the break just to say, Hello! How are you? I love the feeling!
This is the humble beginning of a new Afghan society. During my discussion with the women teachers and council members, I have noticed that, they feel immense satisfaction. Perhaps, that is the wonderful feeling of serving the humanity in need. I think, in essence, this is what, a society after a long war, expecting for a greater opportunities!!!