Equality/Women’s Rights

Afghan Women in N.Y. Reflect on 10-Year War

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Afghan war marks its 10th anniversary today. In Queens, N.Y., Afghan women talk about how the country has changed in many ways for the better, but also why they prefer their new lives in the United States.



QUEENS, N.Y. (WOMENSENEWS)--Today marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. and British forces' intervention in Afghanistan.

While a recent survey indicates that Afghan women are feeling safer, the vestiges of the Taliban regime are still strongly visible within the society, says Yalda Atif, 21, an Afghan woman studying international law at Brooklyn Community College.

"Many Afghan men consider that women have to stay home and don't need education," Atif said. "Women still face some difficulties when they want to go to school. This is still the mentality that prevails in the Afghan male mind."

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The Taliban, which ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, were infamous for their strict laws marginalizing women that deprived them of the rights to work, study or move freely.

Afghanistan's constitution now stipulates that men and women have equal rights, but many independent agencies say women in the conservative country are still subject to widespread discrimination and oppression.

Atif came to New York on an academic scholarship and lives with her grandmother in Queen, N.Y.

"As a young woman in Afghanistan, when you are done with school and your education, the community will force you to get married, and I didn't want that," said Atif.

Sixty-six percent of Afghan women said they feel safer than before the war and 72 percent believe their lives are better, according to a survey released on Monday by ActionAid.

However, 90 percent of them are worried of a return of a Taliban-style government.

Unusual Encouragement

Atif says her family gave her an unusual amount of encouragement to pursue her education.

"My family has been my biggest support. In the street that I was living on in Kabul, in my family, we were the only kids going to school and working outside, while the rest of children were at home. I was seeing all our neighbors standing behind their windows and looking at us," she said.

Her mother is a schoolteacher and her two older sisters, who still live in Afghanistan, are highly educated. One is a physician and the other an economist who works for the U.S embassy in Kabul.

Atif recently became a case manager for Women for Afghan Women in Queens, N.Y., after having volunteered for the organization. The advocacy group has been helping Afghan women since April 2001, seven months before the start of the war in Afghanistan.

The organization provides front-line programs and services to women in crisis in eight provinces in Afghanistan (Kabul, Kapisa, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Faryab, Sar-i-Pul, Nangarhar).

It also serves Afghan women living here in Queens. The group provides trainings and workshops about women's rights according to the law in the United States. About 70 women each week also attend ESL (English as a Second Language) and computer classes offered by the group, said Naheed Bahram, New York's program manager for Women for Afghan Women. The center also provides a civic education class and preparation for the driving test.

"We help women with social services, domestic violence issues and our main mission is the empowerment of women," Bahram said.

In 2010, Women for Afghan Women served 387 women, among them 37 cases of domestic violence.

"Domestic violence is a huge problem in the Afghan community, but it's hard to get the word out. Women do not usually come and talk about it," Bahram said.

In Afghanistan a woman who speaks out and seeks help is often seen as bringing shame on her family and that reticence to report abuse persists here.

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