A Voice We Are Thankful to Hear

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Written By: Lisa DeBenedictis

During the international coverage of Afghanistan’s peace jirga last week, one of the Afghani’s interviewed caught Barakat’s eye—or should we say, ear.

Talk surrounding the jirga was ripe with controversy, especially for many women’s rights activists who wondered if attempts to open talks with the Taliban would result in concessions to the recent—and albeit slight—gains in rights for Afghani women.

Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a leading women’s rights activist in Kabul, was available for comment.

“My hope is that it will recognize their presence and protect their [women’s] rights equally to men, as presented in the constitution,” said Ashraf Nemat in an interview with Reuters prior to the jirga.

Since the Susan B. Anthonys, Gloria Steinems, and Hillary Clintons of the Middle East are rarely mentioned, and even more rarely acknowledged, we at Barakat decided to take this opportunity to highlight and celebrate Ms. Ashraf Nemat’s hard work and dedication to women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Ashraf Nemat began her career as a guide and translator in the mid-1990’s, helping journalists and foreign aid workers to refuge during Taliban-run Afghanistan. In 1999, she founded what is now one of the leading NGO’s in Afghanistan, Humanitarian Assistance to the Women and Children of Afghanistan (HAWCA), which she served as director of until 2007.

In the course of the ten years she spent working for HAWCA, Ashraf Nemat helped develop training programs for Afghan women and children refugees in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and launched underground literacy and health education programs.

The recipient of several fellowships and awards, Ashraf Nemat has a Masters in Developmental Planning from the University of London, and became a Yale World Fellow in 2008.

She has also worked with such organizations as Human Right’s Watch, Swiss Development Coordination, UNDP, and UNIFEM, and is on the board of directors for the Afghan Women’s Network.

In 2010, Ashraf Nemat founded the Youth and Women’s Leadership Centre.

In a letter to President Obama shortly after he won the 2008 election, Ashraf Nemat wrote: “In the 21st century, the most important weapon to be given to Afghan people, of whom over 50% are youth, is the pen. More investment in education for a nation with a 71% illiteracy rate will significantly curb generations of prospective terrorist recruits against the West in general, and contribute to a sustainable peace in the region.

“Women in Afghanistan, despite some claims to the contrary, are not liberated. Nor can an outside force liberate them. They are under-represented in the leadership and political decision-making processes; and moreover, the debates and discussions about negotiating with extremist groups such as Taliban and Hezb-e Islami are indeed endangering the status of women by limiting their access to education, jobs and political participation. The process of democratization and gender equality requires strengthening grass-roots initiatives working on such issues on the ground.”

In a world where billions of jumbled voices are constantly shoving to speak over each other, sometimes one voice seems barely audible.

But, Ms. Ashraf Nemat, Barakat hears you.

We too at Barakat realize that literacy and education for the youth, and especially the female youth, of Afghanistan is the key tool for empowerment and change, and Barakat seeks to do so with our locally run schools in Afghanistan.

Click here to help give the future Orzala Ashraf Nemats of Afghanistan a voice, too.

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