Recently, we recognized International Women's Day as a global day of celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
As part of learning about women’s achievements, I interviewed a woman from Afghanistan who arrived in Canada seeking asylum just as our borders were closing for COVID about 1 year ago. It was in Afghanistan that Mursal experienced many of the challenges of a country that gives minimal opportunities for women to make decisions and share their ideas. Fortunately, Mursal was raised in a family that empowered her to get an education, and her mom continues to champion for human rights despite of the dangers of doing so.
1. In general, what opportunities are there for women in the country you came from?
- "Men get better opportunities in all parts of society. The literacy rate for females is just 24%, so that limits opportunities. However, there are increasing opportunities for education for women in the larger cities in recent years, even graduate studies. 22% of women are currently employed, which has seen [a] consistent increase over the past 10 years."
- "When women get an opportunity for higher education, they come back to apply it in their communities, even when it is dangerous."
2. What are the obstacles for women to receive an education and work professionally?
- "Probably the biggest challenge is security for women. Families want to avoid any possibility of shame, so they over-protect their daughters and sisters, stifling opportunities."
- "Attacks in the community and universities, where students are poisoned and shot add to fear about the insecurity of allowing women to leave their homes."
- "Another obstacle is that women are rarely taken seriously in their jobs, even though they are capable and qualified. Some positions are given symbolically, come without authority and little or no respect given to the woman."
- "Most Afghan families are not financially able to send girls to school."
- "Because mutual trust is rare, professional relationships with men in the workplace and networking are difficult. Workplace harassment and corruption are also big issues."
- "Ultimately, there is a fear of losing control if women are empowered."
3. Why did you advocate for women and children in Afghanistan?
- "In my language, a saying goes, 'if you don’t become sick, you won’t become a good doctor.'"
- "Understanding the plight of women in Afghanistan gave me a big heart to empower women and children."
- "My mom has been through all these obstacles and more, and she has had to fight and because of this, she has been an empowering example to me."
- "By empowering girls to know their rights, and gain access to education and health, girls can find their power, find themselves, and eventually have meaningful work."
- "I was invited by an NGO (non-government organization) for women for peace and participation to empower women. Driven by USAID and the Euro Union, a program was designed to support ideas of women’s rights and promoting opportunities for education in fields like journalism, medicine, and motivational speaking. Some were sent abroad to study in the US and UK and come back with degrees. They always want to help others when they come back. The World Bank created a program that hired recent finance grads to have meaningful roles in society."
4. What is your biggest hope for your home country?
- "The biggest hope in Afghanistan is for peace. For things to get better—including access to education, access to human rights, equal treatment, and opportunities to build businesses—there must be participation with women. If not, there is no peace."
- "If you want to survive in Afghanistan, you should be free to decide what you want to do like choosing who to marry and choosing your career."
- "Mothers are key in raising a generation as they provide role models and a way for girls to follow."
5. Are there ways for us as a church to stand with women leaders in places like your home country or here in Canada?
- "Networks are so important, so as a church, you can help us create networks. No matter how small it is, it will grow like a community, day by day, just like how Mim is inviting people to our community and growing our network."
- "You need to be careful not to do anything in the name of a church in Afghanistan, as that will be a problem, but you can serve in the name of an NGO."
- "You can listen to the stories of women in countries like Afghanistan. What would be the outcome of this new understanding? If you ask, we will open up and we will be empowered."
- "But ask these questions… Why am I doing it? Am I willing to help and promote women? How would I go about doing this?"
Mursal shared honestly about where she came from. She is a hero for empowering women and children in Afghanistan but needed to flee because the ongoing threats to her life were too serious. Even still, she dreams of starting up an NGO in Afghanistan one day that empowers girls and women.
Perhaps she will share another time of what her first year in Canada has been like. In the meantime, I encourage us to reflect on some of these important thoughts. If you are interested in becoming more proactive in standing with women who come from oppressive backgrounds, take some time and honestly reflect on the 3 questions that Mursal posed.
For more information about standing with Afghan women in Vancouver or Afghanistan, contact Mim.
Through Pastor Ken’s book fund proceeds and some Tenth donors, we support an important project in Afghanistan. More info here and watch a short video here about an empowered woman in Afghanistan.