Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
finding what is possible in troubled times
In the midst of holiday cheer and the turn of year, devastating and difficult news from Afghanistan came to light last week. The Afghan Ministry of Economy has banned women from working in local and international humanitarian organizations. This follows news just days earlier that the Taliban government has again barred women from attending public and private universities (essentially, from pursuing any education beyond sixth grade).
There is some question as to whether this rule applies specifically to Afghan women who work for aid organizations or to any women who serve in these humanitarian roles. Regardless, many international aid organizations, including many of Week of Compassion’s ecumenical partners, have been forced to suspend programs in the country. While United Nations officials continue meeting with Taliban authorities, humanitarian aid teams are strategizing ways to reconnect life-saving care in the midst of a near-famine levels of food crisis for more than six million Afghans. Doing this work without the women who staff the agencies, and lead the local communities, is unfathomable.
Week of Compassion is in close conversation with ecumenical humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, ready to respond, especially with educational support for girls and young women. Week of Compassion’s core values of accompaniment, community and integrity guide the work we do - not only when it flows easily, but especially in times of crisis. All of our international humanitarian programs require participation and leadership by women: they are the ones who make change possible, who lift up their families and communities out of poverty and destruction.
It is impossible to estimate the loss if this restriction on education, and on women staffing organizations, is allowed to continue. Female employees are a considerable share of agency staff, and the work - to reach children, women, and men in need of every kind of assistance - simply cannot be done without them. Because so many of these women are local Afghan citizens, such a ban also deals a tremendous blow to a nation already in economic crisis. Agencies are balancing the compelling call to care for those in desperate need against the ethical concern for the full participation and safety of female staff. This impacts needed assistance in starving communities, affects the livelihood and income of local Afghan workers, and threatens the educational and vocational futures of millions of children, especially girls.
One of the key principles and practices within Week of Compassion’s ministry is the empowerment of women. The situation in Afghanistan not only goes against our values, but also stymies the partners who have been working in Afghanistan helping communities rebuild. It is as important as ever for Week of Compassion to support and invest further in the education of girls and women, and the involvement of women within the humanitarian response.
Alongside our international partners, and their work with the United Nations, Week of Compassion is working and coordinating ways to move forward, to clarify what is possible and discern what will be next. We hope to be part of an expansion of education for girls, focusing especially on rural Afghan communities, marginalized and vastly underserved. Proposals include creating education centers, teacher training workshops, parent and community councils, building playgrounds, school supply distribution and more, reaching more than 13,000 Afghans in these outlying communities. Implementing these plans will increase girls’ enrollment and access to quality education, and improve the education system by building the capacity of teachers in a safe and friendly learning environment. These are the fundamentals every student deserves, and Week of Compassion will continue working with our partners to bring such possibility to women and girls worldwide.
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