#1 Life in Afghanistan :: NajibaPosted: October 1, 2013
Najiba* wears the burkah at all times and rarely leaves the walls of her home which is situated in one of the poorer areas on the outskirts of Kabul, an area known for its strict conservative lifestyle and strong male dominance.
I met Najiba one day sitting in the room of one of her neighbors with some friends. We sat on the floor on thin floor cushions around the only source of heat in this home. A metal bowl containing hot ashes and charcoal placed under a wooden platform. Blankets covered the platform and were drawn over our legs which were stretch out under it. I was still cold, I could see my breath as I spoke with Najiba, and I wondered how this family would survive the winter without knowing death from exposure. As we sat huddled together for warmth they encouraged Najiba to tell me her story. She shyly complied and told me how she had helped bring transformation to her community.
“I never used to leave my home. I didn’t have permission to go anywhere. I came to the group because I heard that it can benefit your life. They asked me on the first day for my name, I was too nervous to speak up and give it at first, but the facilitator was very kind and helped me. I learnt many things from the group – how to save money and how to use it well. I learnt that many of the people in my street have the same problems as me and I am not alone, it was very interesting for me to hear. I have thought a lot about how to make my life better and how to have a more peaceful home. One thing I learnt that was very important to me was the need for children to have an education.
One day I came to the group and I was very concerned. I told them that I had a problem, I told them I now know that it is important for all my children to get an education, but my husband would not let my daughters go to school. The other women in the group said that this was a problem for them too and we talked about it a lot. We knew that if we wanted the situation to change we would have to change the minds of the men.
The next week the facilitator came to our group and helped us think about how we could talk to our husbands and how we could do it in a respectful way. She also talked with us about how to avoid conflict when challenging their decisions. It was very useful and we all agreed we would talk to our husbands.
It took a long time of slowly talking to them and sometimes it was hard. Now I knew other women were in the same situation as me, and now these women were my friends, we were able to support each other and we kept going and kept trying to change the opinion of our husbands. Eventually some of the men gave permission for their daughters to go to school, and when the other men saw that this was having a benefit they sent their daughters to school too. More and more girls were going to school and it was very good.
One week our group discussed it and I said that we should make a rule for our community and we should all promise to send the girls to school. We set up a meeting and all the men and women agreed to send all girls to school until they were older [Roughly age 14]. It was a very happy day, and I could see how our community was improving. Now all our daughters are in school.”
Amazed at the story of change I had heard I asked Najiba what effects this education was having, Najiba and her friends all chipped in with answers;
“Less of our babies are dying”; “My daughter can read the medicine bottles”; “The girls are happier”; “They understand more now”; “They can help with the shopping”; “Maybe one day they can have a job and bring some money home”; “My daughter wants to become a doctor, this will benefit our family a lot”; “We have learnt what food is good to eat”.
I was amazed at how this whole community had truly been transformed. Living standards were rising, death rates were falling, and girls who before were destined to spend the rest of their days behind high walls were beginning to hope and dream for the first time about what their future could hold.
All of this is thanks to the courage Najiba had to speak out and bring change with the help of her group.
*Names changed to protect identities.
This post is part of the 31 Days series.