Blog Post Within a Blog Post

Well, lookathat! My organization just posted a piece I wrote about my last visit to Afghanistan on their blog. You are welcome to access it by clicking here. Or you can read it below:

Notes from the field: From Counterpart to Kabul: a lot of hope, a little perspective

This first-person account is part of a regular series of how Counterpart works in the field. This story is by Jennifer Williamson, Gender Technical Specialist.

Since my return from a recent visit to Counterpart’s program in Afghanistan, I look every day at the beautiful strand of prayer beads hanging above my desk, and think about the woman who made each bead by hand. I don’t know her name, but I know she was imprisoned for “moral crimes.”

Many girls and women in Afghanistan are imprisoned under this charge, which is often brought against women who have sex outside of marriage (including rape and forced prostitution) or are caught running away from home in an attempt to escape forced and abusive marriages.

My thoughts turn to the women who are working, one small step at a time, to create a better future for women like these, in Afghanistan and around the world.

As Counterpart International’s gender specialist based in its Arlington, Va. headquarters, I had the chance to meet some of those dedicated women on a recent trip to Kabul to visit some of our Afghan partners.

Hasina Safi is the Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Educational Center (AWEC), one of our partner organizations in Afghanistan. I had previously met Hasina when she was in Washington, D.C. for a speaking tour on remarkable Afghan women change-makers, and was delighted at her invitation to get together.

Hasina provided a warm welcome when I arrived at AWEC and talked about the Center’s work to educate women and children, to protect them from violence, to raise awareness and advocate for women’s rights .

As she introduced me to the members of her staff, I met women trained as lawyers and social workers who were dedicated to helping imprisoned women in Kabul and Mazar by providing legal services, education and training in craftwork.

The men and women on AWEC’s staff told me about their efforts on a variety of projects: peace-building programs in Herat, Balkh, Wardak  and Nangarhar provinces; women’s empowerment programs in Paktia, Logar,  Balkh  and Parwan provinces; and a youth education and employment project in Faryab province.

AWEC is one of more than 300 civil society organizations implementing Counterpart’s three-year Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society (IPACS) program, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Counterpart works with these groups expand their ability to offer services, advocate on behalf of citizens and engage with the Afghan government.

One of the goals of IPACS is to assist Afghan civil society organizations in taking what they have learned about gender and applying it to actual practice, helping them to address inequalities and cultural barriers on an everyday level.

The program manages a large portfolio of women’s empowerment grants and ensures that each partner organization is dedicated to supporting work that promotes women’s rights and gender equality.

But it also ensures that all of this work is carried out with an eye toward understanding the ways in which men, women, boys, and girls are affected differently or have different levels of access to program benefits and activities.

Counterpart is proud to partner with such organizations as AWEC because of the vital role they serve in building Afghan civil society and working toward a stronger, inclusive community.

Hasina herself spoke passionately about the progress that has been made and the women who have been helped through different programs implemented by the organization. She explained how they plan to use a bottom-up approach in order to see real nation building in the future.

It is uplifting to take stock of the accomplishments of all our partner organizations, such as the establishment of a legal aid clinic that protects women’s legal rights in the center of Herat province by the Women Activities and Social Services Association (WASSA) and the Social Development and Advocacy Organization (SDA-O).

These organizations are making headway in their work with the provincial Department of Women’s Affairs, police departments, and judicial authorities in six districts—educating them on women’s rights in Afghanistan and bolstering their ability to promote gender equality and decrease violence against women at the community level.

The progress is impressive, but Hasina tells me there is so much more still needed.

Rural Afghan women in particular still lack access to education, resources, and support. They have to be prioritized in all of our civil society and peacebuilding efforts, Hasina said.

And we have to keep engaging the support of men and religious leaders in our efforts to help women and children.

A stronger, more resilient Afghan society will be built through increased and stable access to education, healthcare and employment—issues that must be addressed through a gendered lens.

The U.S. Agency for International Development recently held an event that took a look back at the organization’s work on gender integration and women’s empowerment, and discussed the future of promoting equality through development assistance.

USAID has worked over the past year to make attention to gender a high priority.

It released the Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, a U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, a report on Ending Child Marriage & Meeting the Needs of Married Children, and quite a few more.

Hasina told me that she wants—and Afghanistan needs—to see these policies “walk and talk,” to see them implemented and in practice on the ground.

We are talking the talk, and by working together, we can walk the walk.

It’s comforting to know that there is a network of organizations led by people like Hasina in Afghanistan and around the world who will not stop until they can point to real improvement for the lives of women.

Those prayer beads she gave me remind me every day that my job is about ensuring that those individual women are seen, heard, included, paid attention to, and are a visible and active part of the communities in which we work.

My job is about putting individual faces on what are often seen as generic groups, so that no one—man, woman, boy, girl, young, old, disabled—is overlooked in the community development process.

I feel, after my trip, that I am in good company.