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This is Afghanistan

by Women for Women International | Women for Women International
Thursday, 16 August 2018 13:45 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The number of civilians killed in the war in my home country of Afghanistan reached a record high in the first six months of 2018. The United Nations reported 1,692 people killed and 3,430 people injured in conflict, however, for those of us living in what seems like a never-ending cycle of conflict, the bleak statistics don’t even begin to describe the pain and suffering we endure on a daily basis. It also doesn’t capture the change that has taken place in Afghanistan. I worry that the world continues to see us as a lost cause without recognising everything we’ve accomplished.

Don’t get me wrong; living and working in conflict is incredibly difficult. It’s hard to write about what it feels like; to leave for work not knowing if you’ll return home; to wonder if you’re hugging your children for the last time; to pace nervously when your daughter is late from school; to call a dozen friends and family members every time there is a terrorist attack just to see if they’re still alive.

“Are you okay?” “Yes, thank God.”

The conversations don’t last long. You move on to the next person on your mental list, hoping your calls will go through. You hope and pray you won’t have to do this again, but deep down you don’t believe it could end.

It’s hard not to lose hope in Afghanistan when the rest of the world seems to have accepted our daily loss as normal and inevitable. However, just as there are times when everything seems bleak, what gives me hope is the resilience of the women I work with. As a member of Women for Women International’s staff in Kabul, I work each and every day with the most impoverished and marginalised women of Afghanistan. Even in the darkest days, they inspire me to not give up on Afghanistan and to do more.

One of the women I’ve met and I’m inspired by is 22-year-old Muzhda. She was a baby when her family’s life was interrupted by the Taliban. To escape their persecution, like millions of other Afghans, Muzhda’s family moved to Pakistan where they were refugees for nearly six years. As refugees, they couldn’t afford to go to school.

“That was hard. We moved from refugee camp to refugee camp. It wasn’t a good life so when the Taliban left, we moved back to Kabul.”

When she was only 15 years old, Muzhda was married off without her consent. Today, she is the mother of three kids.

“My husband’s family didn’t let me finish my studies. If I had gone to school, now I could help my children with their studies. When my children read, I can’t tell if they are reading correctly or not.”

Despite all this, Muzhda has not given up. She is learning how to become a tailor, so she can become economically self-sufficient and send all her children to school. She envisions for them a life different from her own and she is steadfast in her determination to build a better life for herself and her family.

Muzhda is not alone. Afghan women are empowering themselves and taking up leadership roles in virtually every venue. We are opening restaurants, making strides in sports, joining the justice system, running for office, coding, and shaping a better Afghanistan.

The good news is that young women and men make the majority of Afghanistan’s population. They don’t want to live the lives of their parents. They are learning new skills, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable for women in both urban and rural areas, and keeping their families and communities together. The thread that binds them is their dreams for themselves and their families and their resolve not to give up, no matter how many bombs go off.

I’m not writing this to romanticize the resilience of Afghan women but to share why I believe we should still care about Afghanistan and why the violence that has dominated the news coming out of Afghanistan shouldn’t be seen as status quo.

Every day thousands of women like Muzhda wake up and despite the bombs and the suicide attacks, they persevere. They work to start businesses, to learn new skills, to become literate, to support other women, and to raise sons and daughters who will have better opportunities for education and therefore will be more likely to pick up a pen than a gun. If, despite the poverty, the war, and the patriarchy, they don’t give up on Afghanistan and on building a better world, how can we?

This blog was written by a staff member of Women for Women International – Afghanistan whose identity has been protected for security reasons.