Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Give Afghan women the power of the purse

  • Print

Opportunities for women in Afghanistan have been in constant flux, increasing under Mohammad Zahir Shah in the 1960s, declining sharply during the Afghan civil wars and Taliban rule and climbing again under the current Afghan government. But this progress, which includes improved literacy and access to the workplace, has faltered over the past two years. President Hamid Karzai decided to appeal to conservative majorities in 2012 by supporting a religious edict that said women's needs were secondary to those of men and that women should not meet with unrelated men in public.

I expect the Afghan government to continue a backward march as it seeks to pull conservative constituencies away from alternate, insurgent-based local governments. Problems such as these in Afghanistan will not be solved by foreign education or advertising campaigns. Nor will representative democratic movements cure these ailments: Representative democracy in this context would merely reflect the popular male consensus against women.

Related Items

Instead, a possible solution is economic growth. The relative power of female workers in Chinese factory cities such as Dongguan suggests this, as do limited cases in Afghanistan.

I was fortunate to participate in a foreign-based infrastructure repair program that hired more than 2,400 women in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013. The majority were widows, most of whom had been forced into starvation conditions by their husbands' families. Interviews with these women suggested their positions within their families improved when they were able to earn money. These benefits ended as projects ended and the widows brought home their last paycheques.

The case of the widows suggests critical goals for any first step toward equality. First, opportunities must open up in socially acceptable contexts. In Afghanistan, this includes work from home; for instance, some women in our program sewed clothes for labourers or wove metal cages used to hold rocks for erosion-control projects.

Second, women should have the means to keep the money they earn, or at least some of it. Recently, women in many countries have done this by receiving payment through mobile phones. While men often take cash forcibly from their sisters, wives or daughters, they are not in the habit of reading through text messages to search out payment histories. These messages also can be deleted without affecting the money earned. In some cases, women who have managed to keep their earnings have pooled their assets in order to receive micro loans, creating a beneficial cycle.

The simplest cellphones have helped women in Afghanistan in another way: They are popular tools for literacy training through a free SMS-based language training program.

Modern technology can provide women with roles as income-earners. This change will not be easy, but it can happen surprisingly fast.

 

Afghani Barakzai was the administrative manager for a USAID-funded organization in southern and eastern Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2014 A9

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

J.P. Vigier’s Whiteboard: Coach Maurice’s first full season

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Hay bales sit under a rainbow just west of Winnipeg Saturday, September 3, 2011.(John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • Susan and Gary Harrisonwalk their dog Emma on a peaceful foggy morning in Assiniboine Park – Standup photo– November 27, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think the Scottish independence referendum will have an effect in Canada?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google