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Women for Women in High Conflict

Today’s post is about four inspiring individuals who represent millions of women.  Women in high conflict areas.

Heleena is an intelligent, beautiful woman of 22 from and working in Afghanistan.  She has received her bachelors degree in Computer Science from a University in Kabul, and is working on her Master of Business Administration diligently online because her country does not have masters programs.  She is also working for the government as a planned policy specialist.  I asked her how she received such a good education, and she responded, “For women to get a good education they have to be risk takers.  They have to be willing to change something.”  She informed me that on April 17, 2012, just days before, some conservative radicals (the group has not been officially identified) poisoned 150 school girls.  Some were able to go home with some treatment, some were in critical condition.  Please click here for the article on this poisoning.  During the rule of the Taliban from 1996- 2001, education for women was declared “un-Islamic” and therefore, illegal.  Girls have legally been allowed to go to school since 2001, but have faced extreme opposition from conservative radical groups.

Heleena is the President and CEO of Third Thought Organization and they have created Afghanistan’s first feminist weekly paper… a huge victory for women in Afghanistan and for women around the world (To find the paper, type “Ruidad Weekly” into facebook).    After our interview on camera, she revealed that Ruidad Weekly has been threatened.  They have been forced to shut down their offices.  They are keeping their new location secret.  I asked,

“Are you scared? Are you going to stop?”

“I must write or do nothing.  Once I made this step, I did not want to turn back, and if that means that I die, that is ok.”

I interviewed three women from the Balkan region yesterday who all work in a feminist network to empower women, young and old, to know their rights and to be confident in themselves.  One woman from Bosnia, the others from Serbia, they have faced enormous hardship after the civil wars in the 1980s and 1990s that destroyed the solidarity and friendship that most people in different ethnic groups enjoyed.  These now polarized societies create a dangerous landscape for the work of empowering women.  These strong, courageous women face discrimination and ignorance every day of their work.  Their stories are visceral and humbling.

As a westerner, I knew before coming to the AWID 2012 forum that violence against women was a problem.  I had read about and had seen documentaries about how war disproportionally effects women.  However, hearing the stories from the girls and women themselves, has impermeably changed this westerner’s perspective.

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