When Afghan women and girls found in December 2001 that they were no longer under state-imposed house arrest, they peered out at a country in ruins.
Taliban rule, following the three decades of war, kept women and girls shut out of schools for five years.
Since those first post-Taliban days, striking change has swept over Afghanistan. Canadian investments in education and rebuilding programs have helped hurry along the drive for learning and training opportunities.
Women have been accessing micro-credit programs like the Micro- finance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA), supported by the Canadian International Development Agency. The charity Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan has been training teachers, running adult-literacy classes and opening village libraries.
The Afghan Canadian Community Centre in Kandahar trains female students in business, computers and English, helping land them lucrative jobs immediately after graduation. The Mennonite Economic Development Associates, headquartered in Toronto, supported 3,000 women farmers in Parwan province with training and access to inputs that helped them improve their crop yields and raise household incomes.
Afghan women still face daunting challenges, including the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, rampant domestic violence, underage marriage (the average female marriage age is believed to be only 15). The Taliban regularly attack girls’ schools, threaten women working in the government and operate “shadow governments” in districts where they have greater control than the government, doling out punishments for “moral crimes” like premarital sex.
– Lauryn Oates is the projects director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.