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We stand with the women of Afghanistan

On Saturday, May 8, a deadly explosion outside a high school in a Shia neighbourhood in west Kabul took an estimated 68 lives, most of them teenage girls leaving class.

We at Women for Women International grieve with our Afghan sisters and brothers over the loss of their children in this senseless massacre. In this neighbourhood, Women for Women International has been building a programme through which Afghan women can strengthen their social and economic power. As always, our staff will prioritise the women in our programmes and their safety. All staff are safe; we are taking measures to contact participants during this time of acute unrest and will monitor the situation as it unfolds. Through our work, we know that women lead the fight for gender equality and women and girls’ value in Afghan society. Afghan women are the peacemakers. Their leadership must be part of the transition.

Women for Women International-Afghanistan programme participant takes part in training in Parwan province. Photo: Rada Akbar
Women for Women International-Afghanistan programme participant takes part in training in Parwan province. Photo: Rada Akbar

Afghan women are the peacemakers. Their leadership must be part of the transition.

This explosion comes against a backdrop of rising violence as the US looks to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by September 11. After years of conflict, the women of Afghanistan are facing an even more uncertain future. It’s widely feared they could soon lose access to hard-earned rights, education, income, and healthcare.

Our organisation has served the women of Afghanistan for nearly twenty years, through programmes that provide resources, skills, and tools so women can improve their health, understand their rights, and build businesses: knowledge women then pass on to their families and communities. Our team has also built an exceptionally robust ally network among men in the communities we serve. We know our programmes work. Women for Women International recently took part in a UK-government-funded study on “What Works to End Violence Against Women in Afghanistan.” The results showed a significant impact on women’s social and economic wellbeing a year after graduating from our programme. Our graduates were more likely to earn money than those who did not take part and they experienced more equitable gender attitudes and more decision-making power in their households.

So, the timing could not have been worse for us to learn that a planned UK government grant, which would have funded our Afghanistan programme, is no longer moving forward. As a result, our enrollment in Afghanistan must be halved, and staff forced to adapt to maintain quality programming for current participants. Nevertheless, we refuse to give up.

“In addition to dangerous circumstances and an unstable future, the women we serve in Afghanistan will face extreme obstacles in the coming months,” says Laurie Adams, CEO of Women for Women International. “But we have been by their side for 19 years, and we do not intend to leave now.

Time and again we are reminded that when governments step back, we, the individuals, need to step forward in solidarity.

This attack has dealt a heavy blow to women’s rights activists across the globe, but now is not the time to give up hope. Afghan women and girls died pursuing an education and the dream of a better future. We honor their memories by continuing our life-changing work.