The US ambassador for Afghanistan, Mark Palmer, recently commented on the need for NGOs to do more to engage with local communities to help shape the future of Afghanistan, saying “Afghan women leaders are sometimes silenced, especially because some of their views conflict with the official narrative.”
I participated in a Gender Dialogues workshop in June where I debated these issues with a group of local women. Our women were an important part of my family, like many others. Some were widows, while others educated their families and worked and were responsible for their households. I noticed a commonality among many of my mother’s and sisters’ classmates. The same warmth, wit, intelligence and seriousness were all passed down.
The program was facilitated by a local women’s rights group from Kabul. What started as small discussions quickly grew to become crowded auditoriums. These participants shared stories of families becoming victims of the Taliban and the siege of their villages. Each of the women had stories of hardship.
The need to help these women transcend their personal experiences and become influencers so that they can show their fellow men they can have a voice, speak up and help create a better future for their community.
A crucial part of this week was discovering the powerful organizations that were ready to help. My most difficult task was to reach out to local organizations that have already had success and see if they’d be interested in assisting with my project. Ultimately, a team of mentors introduced me to the Afghan Women’s Chamber of Commerce (ABCC), an innovative organization run by women, which helps women in rural areas of the country improve their economic situations. The ABCC shares this journey through their story tellers workshops and provides financial assistance to deserving women.
One of the women who spoke was Ritah Khan who served as a healthcare administrator during the Taliban regime and was targeted by the militants. She courageously faced the Taliban and their attacks on her work until she was able to escape her homeland. After learning the ABCC’s partnership with other women’s rights groups to help others succeed, she said, “I believe it was God’s will that you help me and I encourage you to continue. I will do anything to be among the influential women to inspire other women to step out of their homes.”
Now with an outpouring of support from countless media outlets and social networks around the world, it is my hope that our stories and recommendations inspire the ABCC to help more women like her.
Shaima Hesma is an Afghan-American social media influencer living in Queens, New York, and a member of the board of directors of the Afghan Women’s Chamber of Commerce. Visit her blog on UzmainAfghanistan to learn more about her contribution to the cause of Afghan women.