By Rita Henley Jensen
WeNews Editor in Chief
Friday, November 27, 2009
As Obama mulls a U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan, three Afghan women who run social service efforts in their troubled homeland wanted to shift the topic. They prefer talking about schools, jobs, safety and health care.
Fatima Gailani is president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) and considers herself a champion of democracy, for women's rights and all the marginalized.
Afghanistan, strategically positioned as a trade route, is a young nation, Gailani said, because the average life expectancy is 42 years old in a nation that has been at war for 24 years.
Gailani talked about a young man she called Nowroz, who appeared at the Red Crescent headquarters seeking help and insisted on seeing her, as she was the organization's president.
"He was a young man just out of prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had no money to return to his home village . . . He was thin, nervous with dark skin," Gailani said.
He was cold and begged her to help him get some clothing.
"I asked, what were you doing in that place where he was arrested. He said, 'Where am I supposed to be? At my job?' He is Pashtun and most of the schools and health facilities are closed in Pashtun provinces. The unemployment rate in Afghanistan is 40 percent."
The young man went on to tell her that he wants to get married. He said: "I want to live to see my children grow. I want a home. I want all this, but you tell me how? I am prepared to go back to school, but where?"
"How was I to answer him?" asked Gailani.
Young Afghan men are paid $200 to join the fighting, she said, but would gladly avoid it if they could find a factory job for $100 a month.
For her, the wrongly imprisoned Nowroz shows what needs to change in Afghanistan.
"They never experienced ordinary life," she said of the country's young men. "We must give them a taste."
Mary Akrami manages two shelters in Kabul for survivors of domestic violence, including a 6-year-old who ran away to avoid being sold into a marriage. She also manages a network of training centers in four provinces for women that teach literacy, English and computer skills
When she thinks of the women and girls she helps, she recalls Naghida.
Her family had tortured her and cut her hair, she said, and her father killed the young man Naghida wished to marry, in defiance of her father's wishes.
For now, Naghida lives indefinitely in one of the shelters, recovering from torture and grieving the murder of her fiance.
Not only is her life in danger if she leaves, her decision to select her own husband has set off a war between two Afghan tribes. After her father killed her intended husband, the tribe of her fiancé revenged the murder, setting off a series of slayings that has yet to end.
"If the international community goes back, what will happen to the women of Afghanistan?" Akrami asked. "Inside the country, we have powerful war lords, the Taliban. We don't want another civil war."
Rita Henley Jensen is founder and editor in chief of Women's eNews.