By taking jobs to their homes, Afghan native Rangina Hamidi, who grew up in Northern Virginia, has successfully pioneered an hand embroidery business and employment for 450 women in Afghanistan, most of whom are not allowed outdoors without a male companion.
Everyone wants more income, Ms. Hamidi explained to a classroom of about 30 students, faculty, and friends at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. “It raises a family’s stature.” Afghan male family members have offered her business assistance, and they welcome the added family income, Ms. Hamidi said.
She returned to Kandahar in 2003 to assist in the nation’s redevelopment and set up her business which she named Kandahar Treasure. In 2008 it returned a profit for the first time making loans no longer necessary, Ms. Hamidi said to applause.
Jobs for women “empower” them and boost their self esteem. “Women are always a liability” in Afghanistan and must be “taken care of by a man.” Now, her employees contribute to society and the betterment of their families.
Ms. Hamidi was part of a panel presentation, “Women, Reconstruction, and the Challenges of Civil Society in Afghanistan” where another presenter, Patricia Leidl, a writer just returned from Afghanistan, delivered harsh words for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration.
“The U.S. has ditched [Afghan] women like a blind date gone bad,” she said emphatically. George Bush “did a better job for women” than President Obama who has “retreated” on the issue. She called Karzai “corrupt” and “delusional.”
“This is not a battle between men and women.”
Forced marriage and rape are common practices in Afghanistan, and now, the government is closing women’s shelters.
She called Afghanistan “the most profoundly misogynistic society in the world,” and when she finished her remarks, no one applauded like they did for other panelists.
Another presenter, Palwasha Hassan, the founder of the Afghan Women’s Network, noted that despite American military presence and efforts, Afghanistan has “high insecurity” that “unfortunately, is increasing day by day.” War dramatically affects “the situation of women,” and “the future of Afghanistan depends upon women.”
About a third of audience members raised their hands when Mariam Atash Nawabi, founding member of the Afghanistan Advocacy Group, asked how many had jobs or were in a class related to Afghanistan.
She presented shocking statistics: The average Afghan woman lives only 44 years. Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, and 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate.
She said the female quota representation in the new Afghan constitution has been good for the nation, however, many women were elected by majority vote and did not need the quota. (Question: Has this ever been considered in the U.S.? A female quota in Congress?)
Providing services to citizens improves the likelihood that they will resist insurgent forces, Ms. Nawabi said.
The panel consensus was that wearing a burka is not an issue and the least concern of Afghan women. Some women want to wear one for security reasons. There are many more important issues to address.
In the audience was a uniformed American soldier who got in the last question: When he goes to Afghanistan, how can he identify village leaders?
He praised the panel presentation which, he said, will help him be more sensitive to the plight of women in Afghanistan where 67 percent of the population is under age 25, Ms. Leidl said.