Category Archives: Women

Recent Events in Pakistan

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If you’re like us you’re constantly scanning international news sources looking for articles about Pakistan and Afghanistan, but we know most people aren’t usually looking for such specific articles. Recently there has been a lot of activity going on in Pakistan that has caught our attention so we decided to try and sum up some of the activity that has really caught our attention.

Back in February the Punjab Assembly ruled that all violence against women was a criminal act. This is a huge step towards women getting greater rights in a country where they previously had next to none. The bill called “Protection of Women against violence Bill 2015” outlines different resources now available for women who are victims of violence.

 “‘Violence’ itself has been redefined to mean any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person including abatement of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological and emotional abuse, economic abuse, stalking and cyber crime.” –Pakistan Today

The Prime Minister has also spoken out against honor killings, which is when families are allowed to kill women in their families that have brought disgrace on the family name and essentially make them disappear without retribution. There are thousands of women who are killed or go missing every year in Pakistan because of honor killings but the Prime Minister has finally spoken out saying that there is no honor in honor killings which is another huge step in changes in how women are treated in a country where they previously didn’t have a lot of rights. For more information check out this article.

Last month in the wake of the Brussels attack by ISIS there was another attack that didn’t gain as much media attention. This attack happened in Lahore, Pakistan this time it was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban against mainly Christians. Thankfully Lahore is on the other side of Islamabad from where our schools are in Attock City but it was a tragedy none the less. Over 70 people were killed and hundreds more were injured, majority of which were women and children. To learn more about the attack check out this article.

Recently, those of us in the west have primarily only heard about the different attacks that ISIS carries out but the Pakistani Taliban is also a very real threat to our students. Around the time of the attack in Lahore, the Pakistani government required Barakat to either increase security around our schools or close our doors. We chose to increase security so that our students could continue to gain an education even though it put a strain on our financials. Improvements to the schools included adding additional security guards at all buildings, installing security cameras, making the walls around the schools taller and installing gates. We did all of this to make school a safe place for our students to come and learn but we can’t do it alone!

Monsoon season is quickly approaching and we’re reminded of just how dangerous monsoons can be. This past weekend there was flash flooding in the provinces just north of our schools. Thankfully our schools were not affected but it was certainly a reminder of just how dangerous flash flooding can be. 53 people were killed and many more injured not to mention all of the houses and businesses that are now covered in mud from the flood waters. Summer monsoons are not far behind so it’s only a matter of time till we start seeing more stories like this one.

We hope you find these articles as interesting as we did!

 

 

Changes to Barakat!

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We realize we haven’t posted in a while and there are reasons for that. Usually we post about articles we find interesting and think you will too but this time we have news of our own! In late December one of our event coordinators, Mia Buchsbaum, took on the role of Administrator of our U.S. offices. During that time we also opted to close down our formal offices in Cambridge, MA. The reason for this is simple we want to make it possible for even more of every donation to go to what’s most important to us and likely most important to you as well, our programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan!

With that in mind, in the new year we took a close look at the yearly budgets for our programs to see where else we could lower overhead costs so a larger portion of funds we send overseas could go to our students instead of administrative costs. The result was the decision to close our main office for our Afghanistan programs located in Kabul Afghanistan and shift all operations to our smaller North Office. Our North Office is much closer to where our programs are actually taking place and thus has much closer ties to the community we’re trying to serve so is in a better position to represent what the programs need as opposed to a larger office south of the programs. This project is currently underway and will take about six months to be fully completed. However, we have already seen a drop in administrative costs for our Afghanistan program which means already more of every dollar donated is going to where it’s needed most, the schools!

On a much happier and exciting note we’re excited to announce that we had over 100 women graduate from our literacy programs at the end of December! The literacy program runs from April to December every year so it is on break till April when classes will resume again. The 2014-2015 school year also saw a record number of students enrolled in our programs with over 3,000 students enrolled, 62% of which were female! Stay tuned for more blog posts!

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Afghan First Lady Promotes Careful Compromise

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News sources have showed much interest lately in Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, and her unconventional media presence. A recent Washington Times’ article states that: “Rula Ghani has done what first ladies often do in democracies, attending public events alongside her husband and speaking before audiences on current issues. But her words have always been soft-spoken, measured and delivered away from the center stage of the Afghan political scene.”

Often times, Afghanistan’s first ladies are ‘invisible’, neither seen nor heard in public, and certainly not involved in any politics or activism. Ghani is one of the few First Ladies to appear as an advocate and counselor for female political issues. Her husband, President Ashraf Ghani, even set the stage for his wife’s presence by introducing her in his inaugural speech. That act alone isolates Ghani as a controversial female figure.

Ghani, however, in an interview with The Associated Press, refers to herself as merely a ‘listening post’. She refuses the expectation that she serve as an advocate for women’s rights and rejects the treatment Afghan women as victims or prisoners who are in need of escape. Instead, Ghani refers to Afghan women as “very strong women, indeed living in very challenging conditions, showing a lot of resilience, [and] a lot of resourcefulness”.

When placed in the scope of a democracy, Ghani’s actions may seem small. However, an interesting comparison arises when looking at statements made by First Lady Michelle Obama. The First Lady recently delivered a speech in which she defends the act of careful compromise. She stated:

“Do compromises make [great] leaders sell-outs? Traitors to their cause? I don’t think so. Instead I think they knew that if they could just get everyone to take that first step, then folks would keep on moving in the right direction. And they also understood that often the biggest, most dramatic change happens incrementally, little by little, through compromises and adjustments over years and decades. And I know that these days that can seem counterintuitive because we live in such an instantaneous age, [but] if you want to change their minds, if you want to work with them to move [a] country forward, you can’t just shut them out. You have to persuade them and you have to compromise with them. That’s what so many of our heroes in history have done…  they knew where they wanted to go, and they were strategic and pragmatic about getting there.”
(First Lady Michelle Obama, May 25, 2015)

Even in a democracy which centers itself on heated debates and polarized belief systems, the First Lady advocates for incremental change. Simply appearing in public and representing Afghan women as a ‘listening post’ can be a big move towards compromise. Could Ghani have made the first step towards a new female representation in Afghanistan? First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Rula Ghani may have more in common than first meets the eye; although they are female representatives for two very different nations, both are advocates for the careful compromises and small adjustments that move a society forward.

Here at Barakat, we know that change comes one step at a time; each girl who enrolls in our schools benefits individually from her education, but also serves as an advocate for slow but steady change, much like Rula Ghani. One girl can make a difference, even if that difference comes slowly, and in the form of small compromises.

We urge our supporters to help us continue our mission, and join us on the path towards global education, even if that path can seem long and winding at times! It is the careful consideration of different beliefs and a firm sense of understanding that will promote change for the better.

To learn how to advance the education of women and children and support Barakat’s most recent cause, visit our One for Education website here.

Changing Tides: Afghanistan’s Evolving Outlook On Women

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Changing Tides: Afghanistan’s Evolving Outlook On Women

Afghanistan is changing – with new president Ashraf Ghani, the world is hoping that at long last, Afghanistan will clean up its act. President Karzai governed amidst allegations of corruption, even from his own ministers; the Taliban still hold much of southern Afghanistan; Afghan forces are suffering from “unsustainable casualty rates.” And President Ghani too, has been subject to accusations of wrongdoing, such as those perpetuated by his presidential rival, Abdullah Abdullah, regarding electoral fraud.

But President Ghani does seem to be different. Notably, he has spoken up time and again about his vision of an Afghanistan where women in society are empowered. As reported by the Associated Press at President Ghani’s inauguration speech, “in the face of these girls I can see future Afghan leaders,” he said as he told his “sisters” in attendance that they have equal rights in society and government.

Moreover, President Ghani stands out for having paid public tribute to his wife, Rula Ghani, in his inauguration speech – a highly unconventional act, as Afghan leaders’ wives typically remain silent in the background. The First Lady herself commented that “by mentioning me the way he did, my husband really showed exactly what I mean by helping Afghan women be more assertive, more conscious of their role, more respected.”

All this looks very promising, but of course, many have expressed doubts as to whether these ideals will be realized. Mary Akrami, head of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre, welcomes the sentiments expressed by the President, but hopes that they will be followed by “concrete action.”

That hope is shared by the team here at Barakat. As an organization built upon the idea that education is a fundamental human right and should be available to all, particularly to girls and women, Barakat is excited to see the impact First Lady Rula Ghani and President Ghani can make on gender equality in Afghanistan!

Education: the Silver Lining to Life in Afghan Refugee Camps

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A Barakat Literacy Course for Women in Afghanistan

After four years, Taj Mohammad, his wife, and his eight children have grown accustomed to living in close quarters at Charahi Qambar, a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan. The camp provides shelter for 900 families from war-torn areas, mostly from southern Afghanistan. Charahi Qambar is just one of 52 refugee camps in the province. Living in camps is challenging; many refugees live off of $6 a day or less, have no access to heat and very little access to water and food. They do, however, acknowledge one positive difference of life at Charahi Qambar: the opportunity for their children, especially girls, to attend school.

“I did not know that girls could go to school, because in my village only a very few girls were taught anything and it was always at home. I thought, ‘Maybe these are the daughters of a general,’ because where I come from, women do not leave their homes, not even to bring water,” said a male camp resident from Helmand, Rahmatullah, according to a NY Times article. Shortly after arriving to the camp, he and his wife agreed to send their daughters to the camp school. His girls are now in a regular Kabul school.

Eight hundred students attend the camp school at Charahi Qambar and receive daily lunches. The school’s goal remains to bring children up to a level where they can keep up in regular Kabul schools. However, international aid has been steadily decreasing since the US has announced its plan to pull troops, and funding for many of these educational programs and schools is being cut. It remains to be seen how educational programs for children (especially girls), will be sustained after the US pulls out of Afghanistan in 2014.

Thankfully, there are programs rooted in communities, such as Barakat’s schools and literacy programs in northern Afghanistan that are successful and sustained, regardless of US presence. One solution to increasing access to education, particularly for girls and women, could be that donors in developed countries support schools and programs that have deep connection to their communities, much like Barakat. This will ensure that the important work of educating and empowering those who need it the most can continue despite the US pulling out from Afghanistan.

Continuing Obstacles

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Twice within the span of about a week, schoolgirls in Afghanistan have been the victim of suspected poisonings.  The most recent incident occurred on Tuesday at the Aahan Dara Girls School in Taluqan. A hospital in the Takhar province in northern Afghanistan reported admitting 160 schoolgirls after the poisoning.  Police spokesman Khalilullah Aseer blames the Taliban for the attacks.

The girls complained of headaches, dizziness, and vomiting, according to Director of the Provincial Health Department Hafizullah Safi. Over half were discharged within a few hours of treatment. A similar incident occurred last week, resulting in over 120 girls and three teachers being taken to a hospital.

Earlier in the week, the Taliban denied responsibility for the attack and blamed the U.S. and NATO forces. However, the Taliban has long had a history of denying education to women and girls. From the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 1996 until the overthrow of the regime in 2001, women were denied basic rights such as healthcare and education.

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Although they do not have control of the central Afghan government, the Taliban have been waging a fierce battle to control rural schools. According to CNN, the Taliban has been demanding the closure of some rural schools and changing the curriculum in others.

Barakat’s schools in Afghanistan are helping to reverse the trend of not educating females that still persists in Afghanistan. Local schools encourage families to send their girls to school. Literacy courses for older women allow those who have either never been educated or whose education was interrupted—often by the Taliban—to have opportunities they otherwise would not have.

Girls’ education in Afghanistan has and will continue to face many barriers. But through programs like Barakat, female education is making tremendous progress.

Education; a Turning Point for Tragedy

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The names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned here:

This is the story of a young couple. Like too many others, it ends in tragedy. Like too many others, it involves a woman regarded as a second class citizen. Her life is meaningless to those around her. But if they had valued her, for all she was worth, she may have been saved.

Sardar married Shahla when he was 16 years old. The two were matched beyond their will; she was only 13. They had two daughters and a son. Sardar, Shahla and their children lived with Sardar’s mother and his brother’s family. At the time this story took place, Sardar and Shahla had been married for 6 years. She was 19 years old…

Sardar was a farmer, but like many others he struggled with the burden of extreme poverty. Ultimately he was unable to support his family, so he traveled to another province to look for a job. It was difficult for him to find a job, as he was illiterate with no skills or education. Though he looked for many months.

After one particularly exhausting and long day, Sadar came home disappointed. The only thing on his mind was how he was to take care of his large family. The moment he returned home, he asked his mother about his wife. She did not realize the extent of her son’s exhaustion and unhappiness, nor did she realize the affect her words would have.

His mother ranted, “Your wife has been gone; shopping with your sister- in- law.” She complained despite the fact that it was the first time Shahla had gone shopping. The way his mother bitterly said this made it seem as though his wife had gone shopping everyday, neglecting her duties as a wife, while he was out looking for a job. In any household, this might seem like an insignificant bustle between husband and wife. In Sadar’s household, this one confrontation would have dire consequences.

Now infuriated, Sadar reacted by screaming at Shahla when she was back from shopping with her sister. He scorned her, telling her that as a housewife it is her responsibility to look after his family and his mother. This verbal reproach led to physical beating. As Sardar continued beating his wife, neither her sister nor his mother tried to stop him. By the time he was finished with her, she had so many broken bones and ghastly wounds that Shahla was rendered completely helpless. While she endured misery and abuse, no one was there to save her.

Shahla became ill for several days; she was left completely immobile from her husband’s beating. Her husband and in-laws refused to look after her or take her to the hospital. As a result of her injuries and neglect, she passed from this world and left behind two daughters ages four and two, and a five-month-old son.

This tragedy, though heartbreaking, is not uncommon. More women and girls have been killed in the last fifty years as a result of gendercide, than have been killed in all the battles of the twentieth century combined. In the far eastern countries like China and India, the practice of sex- selective abortion has been banned as a result of the gross disregard for the importance of female life.

Consider this story posted in Le Monde on March 28 about women in Afghanistan being imprisoned for ‘moral crimes’ such as running away from home and adultery. According to the Afghan government, this is a simple enforcement of Sharia law. However, Afghanistan is the only country in the world that interprets Sharia law this way. This gross misinterpretation has women being imprisoned because they lack rights as human beings.

There is a distinct connection of income, education, and the perpetuation of this old world treatment of women. In countries like Afghanistan, and Pakistan women are treated as possessions, and there is a well accepted belief that they are not worth the investment of an education. Instead, it is believed that their worth is at home and providing labor for menial work. Ironically, countries that invest in education for women are much better off. And that is the investment that Barakat is making to develop these countries to their full potential.

Thus, at Barakat we believe education is a human right.

“Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world. The question is not whether countries can afford this investment, but whether countries can afford not to educate more girls.” –Lawrence Summers, former chief economist of the World Bank.