AFGHANISTAN: Afghan Women Key to Strong Future

Friday, April 8, 2011
The Chronicle Herald
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

The president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society heard many questions about her country from Nova Scotia students this week.

The majority were about the future women face in Afghanistan, Fatima Gailani said Thursday.

"The questions were mostly about women, women's situation. They had a lot of interest," said Gailani, who spoke Thursday at Halifax's Citadel High School and on Wednesday at Truro's Cobequid Educational Centre.

Since 2005, Gailani has been head of the Afghan Red Crescent, a sister organization to the Canadian Red Cross. Both groups are members of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

"The future for women, I have to confess is fragile," Gailani said in an interview in Halifax on Thursday. "We have to keep our ears and eyes open."

Finn-Jarle Rode, head of the societies' operations in Afghanistan, accompanied Gailani on her visit to Truro and Halifax. They spoke later Thursday to students at Dalhousie University.

While Afghanistan's constitution now gives women equal rights to education, political participation, work and the justice system, higher-profile women in the country must help other women understand and realize their rights, Gailani said.

"If you don't have educated women, no matter what laws and regulations you have, who is going to use it?"

She said she hopes that tribal and religious leaders in the country will "encourage men to let their daughters use this opportunity."

Gailani is the daughter of Per Sayed Ahmed Gailani, a religious leader in Afghanistan. She completed her high school education in Kabul and moved to Iran to attend university. She returned to Afghanistan in 1979 but most of her family was forced into exile soon after the communist revolution.

She came back in 2002 after a period living in England, where she cared and translated for wounded Afghan children who were brought there for treatment.

The Afghan Red Crescent and International Federation of the Red Cross receive funding from the Canadian government for humanitarian projects in Afghanistan.

As well, the Canadian Red Cross is working with the Afghan Red Crescent on programs to help vulnerable civilians in the country.

Gailani said she wants Canadians to learn how these projects are helping civilians in Afghanistan.

One program, funded in part by the Canadian Red Cross, provides vocational training to widowed Afghan women so they can provide for their families. Another supplies artificial limbs for wounded civilians.

It is estimated there are more than 1.5 million widows and over 100,000 adults and children with handicaps in the country due to the long conflict there.

While the Afghan Red Crescent runs many programs focusing on disaster management to health, basic initiatives like looking after orphans and widows have "fallen on the lap" of the Afghan Red Crescent, she said.

Gailani said the Red Crescent is a neutral organization that helps everyone, no matter their political or religious ideologies, so it must be careful where its funding comes from, she said.

Earlier this week, Gailani and Rode visited Ottawa, where they had discussions with Canadian International Development Agency officials about future funding for projects in Afghanistan, Rode said.

Rode said it is important that humanitarian organizations don't try to impose their will on Afghanistan.

"We have to support and facilitate, but they have to lead the process. We have to acknowledge the mistakes we've (made) the last 10 years in Afghanistan, not understanding the culture, the history of the region.

"I think we are at that stage today, in the transition period, when we are starting to withdraw the troops and support Afghanistan in a different way."