Giving Afghan Girls a Chance at Education and Sports

The low status of women and girls in our society is a major problem. Parents are ready  to educate their sons but not their daughters. There are as many boys as girls in Nepal, but fewer girls are able to go to school. Being a girl, they have many household chores to do, and they are compelled to discontinue their education. We feel sad about this discrimination by our parents. The lack of adequate facilities in schools also forces us to drop out from studies … Sexual abuse and harassment on the way to and from school, compel us to drop out of school …”

-      Reshmi Chowdhary, 16, Biratnagar Child Club; remarks at the Opening Session, ‘Equity, Gender and Quality in Education’ Asia-Pacific Technical Meeting of UNGEI Global Advisory Committee, June 2008

Afghan girls studying together. Photo: Oxfam

Afghanistan is one of the five South Asian countries with a formal partnership with the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), which has done much to influence the Afghan governments’ decisions in policies towards women in education but much is still to be done.

Comparing female adult literacy to male adult literacy, Afghanistan stands at 29 percent, which is really low next to other developing countries such as Bangladesh (82 percent) and India (71 percent).

Statistics shows that due to a congruence of influences and situations, education for women and girls are inevitably affected in the face of natural or manmade disasters such as war and earthquakes. The recent earthquake in Pakistan is one such example.

Such disasters have a way of wiping out schools, and changing lives drastically. Due to the pressing economic and practical needs of their families and communities, women and girls are forced to take on income-generating roles and forego the chance of further education, whichever stage of education they were at. Dangers from natural disasters may also hinder women, girls and educators from travelling to school. Access to schools is further cut off for women and girls who live in remote, mountainous regions, reducing their mobility tremendously.

Tackling with the issue of the gender difference in education is one thing and providing women and girls with the equity of gender is another.

In partnership with UNICEF, a coalition of partners was formed to influence the Afgahnistan government’s policies towards education for women and girls.

Bringing education to young Afghan girls can be challenging yet lots of fun too. A simple yet enjoyable approach that UNGEI took to bring education to young girls is through sports.

Gender restriction on girls’ physical movements has made it difficult for young girls to partake in any form of healthy physical exercises in Afghanistan. In 2009, UNICEF responded to an appeal by a group of girls to play ball sports such as basketball and volleyball in their schools. With the support of various agencies, Girls’ Sports Forum (GSF) was set up.

Sports for these girls mean another form of education and a chance where they can unleash their potential as girls, a chance to allow them play, and a chance to bring them together, enjoying something together.

Afghan girls cheering their teams on. Photo: UNGEI

Through agencies such as UNGEI, women and girls in Afghanistan not only have a chance in obtaining an education but to learn how to play and have fun, through various sports as well, making life a whole lot more meaningful.

Giving Afghan Women Their Self-Worth through Work

Mutabeqa is an extraordinary woman in her culture because she is doing something that most women in developed countries are already doing work.

As a woman, working is out of the norm and can be considered a disgrace in her Afghan culture.

Unmarried and having to support her mother, Mutabeqas superb embroidery and leadership skills made her stand out in her community, making her an important asset of Zardozi, a sewing centre for Afghan women that works with families in refugee camps.

Mutabeqas work is deemed a disgrace to her family by her brothers, who abandoned her and their mother, because a working woman is still unaccepted in the Afghan culture. This is a perception that non-governmental organizations (NGO) such as Zardozi hopes to change.

Playing an important role at Zardozi, Mutabeqas role is to check on the quality of handmade goods and make sure the artisans are paid on time. Zardozi plays the vital link between the artisans and the mass consumer market, ensuring the appeal and quality of products are top-notch to keep these artisans livelihood sustainable.

A story like Mutabeqas is amazing yet hers is one of the many stories of resilient women in Afghanistan who are willing to forego family disgrace in order to focus on the practical needs of her family and immediate community.

Since 1984, Zardozi has been providing employment for over 3000 families at refugee camps along the Pakistani border. Marketing these handmade goods to the global marketplace, Zardozi helps to ensure that the refugee families have money to provide themselves with basic health and afford education. Because of the closure of refugee camps in 2008, Zardozi continued to provide employment for these families even after they moved back to eastern Afghanistan, so that their income would have some form of continuity.

The beauty of embroidered Zardozi products. Photo: Zardozi

In 2007, Zardozi set up Ganjina, a craft centre situated strategically in Kabul, Afghanistan, a prime location for trade to take place. Some of the handmade products that are sold there include jewelry, shoes, accessories, clothing, books, visual arts, calligraphy etc.

Zardozi currently employs more than 60 people in manufacturing products, product sales as well as camp outreach.

Some of Zardozis beautiful range of products can be found at The Hunger Site, where every purchase ensures a certain percentage goes to the purchase of free books for children in need, making education for the next generation possible. Like Zardozi, The Hunger Site supports the provision of fair wages to artisans.

To hear stories from the Afghan artisan women directly check out the video below, which promotes the sale of Afghan artisan products from The Hunger Site:

Fair Trade for Women in Afghanistan

Afghan women learning and making jewelry together. Photo: One World Projects


In a society obsessed with and snowed under consumerism, most of us buy without thinking about the origins of the products we purchase. Questions such as where the materials come from (South Africa? Pakistan? India?), who harvested them (below-wage laborers or at fair wage?) and who made them (factory made or handmade?) dont come to us conscientiously because of the large amount of stuff we buy on a regular basis. Most of our products these days change through so many hands before they come to us and the profits that go into each stage of transfer means the laborers at the bottom of the food chain are at the greatest disadvantage and work the most for the least amount of wage.

Some businesses, however, are built on ethical principles that counter this ravaging behavior that consumerism produces and uses business as a means toward social change and community impact. One World Projects is one such initiative that is founded on the principles of fair trade, socially and environmental consciousness in conducting its business. Working with local development agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries around the world, one of the things they are passionate about is providing fair wages to its workers which in turns build up the lives of these workers and their communities.

One of the many organizations that One World Projects work with is the Madina Handicrafts Community (MDC), an NGO in Afghanistan that empowers women who are either disabled or in vulnerable situations by providing them with an education, teach them literacy as well as teach them basic business skills which will go a long way for them as individuals as well as their communities. These Afghan women are also taught how to make jewelry, which is a way of providing them with relevant trade skills that can bring them sustainable income. Handmade jewelries by these women are currently sold through One World Projects to various businesses around the world.

Handmade jewelry by Afghan women.

Handmade jewelry by Afghan women. Photos: One World Projects

MDC works with more than 200 women, most of who are disabled and from various war-town provinces such as Kabul, Qarabagh and Wardak.

Some encouraging stories can be found amidst these women. Shaima Shafaq, a victim of Afghanistan war, hosts the MDC workshop located in Kabul right in her home. Having been shot by an Afghan soldier didnt deter her spirit. Instead, she desires to inspire other women like herself who have suffered the pains of the war, and hope that through an open, giving attitude, she can inspire others to lead better lives and bring them out of their own seemingly hopeless situations.

Retail and wholesale purchases of these handmade jewelries by MDC can be made directly at One World Projects website as well as through eBays World of Goods site, a sub-site especially dedicated to ethically produced, eco-friendly merchandise.

When we make an ethical decision to support and purchase the handicrafts of Afghan women such as those from MDC, we can do our part to help them rebuild their lives and their country, which will eventually bring peace to their land.

NY Unleashed – A Thorny Heart

This beautiful, solidly casted thorny heart caught our eye while window shopping in SOHO NYC. It is gold-plated pewter with a unique surface that demands visual and sensory attention. On the one hand, it compels you to want to touch it, hold it in your hand, but the thorns let you know how they feel about that. This dramatic contrast screams out the quintessential NY “tough love”, enhancing its many other (and probably just as sharp) interpretations as the number of thorns on it.

Thorny Heart available at Michele Varian (35 Crosby St, NY 10013)