The United Nations' theme for International Women's Day is to Empower Rural Women: End Hunger and Poverty. The goal falls within a year of launching the new UN Women with more direct funding and dedicated strength to women's rights; as the Commission on the Status of Women continues in New York City; and, with the UN already achieving two of the eight MDG Goals before 2015. Imagine how far-reaching the effect of empowering all women to help end hunger and poverty for everyone.
On March 8, CARE and Gender Across Borders invites bloggers, writers, and humanitarian organizations to Blog for International Women's Day. With over 200 participating blogs, the online event's theme is "Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures." Also, on March 8, the International Museum of Women's annual Gala benefit Art Live Lounge will entertain San Francisco's philanthropists and activists with music, dancing, and cocktails in support of our latest exhibition, MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe.
Building Bridges of Peace
Women for Women International's Join Me on the Bridge Campaign continues as one of the most riveting IWD events because it encourages women to gather across bridges all over the world to show mutual support for women in conflict zones to stand together in peace.
Last year, 75,000 people joined the campaign, and there were 464 events in 70 countries and on 6 continents. According to WfWI's website, last year saw the first-ever bridge events in Baghdad and Kabul, "where the women took brave steps to show their strong demand for peace and equality." This year events are planned in Antarctica, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sweden, Poland, UK, US, and once again in Afghanistan. (You can join an event here.)
A View from Afghanistan
In 2014, America plans to pull out of Afghanistan after more than a decade at war. The image of a better, if not best, world for females becomes a hard-won goal when assessing areas of the world where women and children suffer mercilessly during and after conflict.
A recent New York Times article discussed the heart-wrenching deaths of Afghan infants in Kabul. The children, already displaced to refugee camps, died from cold overnight temperatures simply because they did not have winter blankets in their tents. Their deaths were heavily disputed by Afghan officials.
At the time, I was interviewing Noorjahan Akbar in Kabul about her recent development of Young Women for Change (YWC), a new grassroots organization to empower Afghan women and create social change. Young Women for Change formed, says Noorjahan, "because the youth of Afghanistan, who make over 65% of the population, are not mobilized in the struggle for women’s rights and social justice as much as they should be. The idea behind YWC [makes] it possible for youth around the country to be aware and empowered enough to stand up for women’s rights and start a grassroots movement."
After Noorjahan answered questions for me, I replied with thanks and received this email as her auto-reply.
We are losing more kids. Please help. This winter the weather in Afghanistan has been cruel and cold. As a result many children living under tents and families who can't afford to buy wood are dying. Please help them. How you can help? All Afghans and others living in Afghanistan look around you[r] house and if you have warm clothes, blankets, or shoes please bring it to us, so we can donate them.If Afghan officials are denying infant deaths in refugee camps, imagine the excessive denial and resistance facing NGOs like Young Women for Change. Noorjahan explains that every male and female who come to work for the organization (pictured here) has to fight extremely hard to be there because of cultural norms. Yet, Noorjahan also shares how incredible the need for grassroots advocacy.
"According to Human Rights Council’s report of 2010, 85 per cent of women in Afghanistan face domestic violence," says Noorjahan.
"Violence in schools, harassment in the work place, street harassment and assault and rape are also very common, but often ignored or silenced. The majority of female students in the universities are likely to be harassed or assaulted at least once during their college years. These issues have led to small number of women going to colleges and universities."
Women for Women International reports that in Afghanistan, 85% of women have no formal education. Sweeta Noori, Women for Women International's Country Director in Afghanistan says,"Women in Afghanistan have the courage to move forward - they want support. They want people to stand with them whilst they walk forward, and then let them go."
Walking forward after war is not a simple act with few steps. It takes many. And, women in Afghanistan have been living in war since October 7, 2001. Yet, Noorjahan reminds war was pervasive even before then.
The [Afghanistan] war has not only made the country unsafe, especially for women, but it has also influenced people’s mindset. Because for over thirty years, due to wars, women were not as active in the social life, now it comes as a shock when women do partake in the society and it causes backlash. In addition, the war has caused Afghans to refuse to think long-term so in our decision making we often focus on now and today, rather than a better future, because we are not sure if there will be a future. Based on this, volunteerism has decreased, and very few youth are willing to work for long-term goals.In 2011, the Afghan Women's Network launched and ran the Afghan Green Campaign to show women's dedication to being part of the political sphere. Women wore green scarves edged in red and black stripes (Afghanistan's flag colors), into which they sewed messages such as, “Our vote is our future.” Pictured is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who supported the campaign.
What would YWC's Noorjahan say to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about how to improve women's lives in Afghanistan?
I would pledge to focus efforts on empowering women in the grassroots level. This empowerment should be focus on the economical involvement of women. History is witness that when women are part of the economical life of a country, violations of their rights decrease and they are enabled to say no to violence because they can ran their life independently. I believe it is essential to have a government in Afghanistan that will respect women’s rights and put effort into making it safe for all women across the country...Recently, YWC completed research on street harassment in Afghanistan and is now creating literacy and English language classes for women, posting awareness posters on violence and education for women on the city walls, and launching exhibitions of posters and photos that are about women’s rights. Currently, they are also working on creating a harassment-free, female-only internet café for women in Kabul.