Fatima (right), is one of five women members of the District Community Council in Nahr-e-Saraj district, in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, pictured on International Women's Day, 10 March 2012.
On International Women’s Day in Gereshk this year there were two celebratory events, both entirely Afghan-led, initiated and planned. One took place at the Loy Adi Girls’ High School, the largest girls’ school in the district, and one at the Blue Shura Hall. Both events were well attended, each with a few hundred adult participants along with lots of children.
District Governor Salim Rodi attended the both of the events rather than chairing the weekly District Security Group meeting, demonstrating his respect for the district’s female leaders like Fatima and his support for the Women’s Day events. Rodi spoke at both events, highlighting the courage of the district’s women leaders and the need for active female participation in shaping the future of Afghanistan:
“Afghanistan’s women have suffered much over the past 30 years, but now the time has come where women can celebrate Women’s Day around Afghanistan. I am very happy to see so many women here today. It shows how women now have better opportunities to insist on their rights, and are able to participate. That is no small thanks to the brave, hardworking women who show others the way. We need doctors, midwives, engineers, nurses, teacher, etc. In the past we didn’t have that, but fortunately now we see progress in many areas thanks to strong and courageous women…”
The celebrations at the Loy Adi school centered around students’ participation and performances. Besides speeches, songs and poetry recitations, the program included a play written and directed by students in the 11th grade, about a courageous mother and her friendly female neighbor’s efforts to convince a reluctant father and drug-addicted brother to allow a young daughter to go to school.
Nahr-e-Saraj is the only district in Helmand with female representation on the District Community Council (DCC). The five female DCC members are vocal and active participants in DCC meetings and subcommittees. Helmand in general and Gereshk in particular have a bad reputation in Afghanistan, not least in terms of opportunities and rights for women. This makes it all the more noteworthy that real progress is in evidence in several areas.
The women of Gereshk have now been able to throw a Women’s Day celebration two years running, with hundreds of women participating. It's a sign of wider changes that are no small feat – even if there’s still a long way to go.
Photo: Mette Bastholm/Helmand PRT/Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Department for International Development