On 25 January some of Zardozi’s staff members and vocational trainers gathered at a table to plan its next program, not free of troubles. Everyone was struck by the one question: how to bring both men and women into one room to be trained on gender issues. Such a gathering had never been organized before and the upcoming challenges were striking the team. Zardozi’s team was not only concerned about this being a joint gathering of men and women, but also about the location of the training. As some women may be prevented from attending an office or training centre Zardozi located the training in a local house, instead of in its Manbeh (Community Business Center). The Zardozi team was working towards helping poor Afghan women in the urban and rural areas to enable them to earn an income for themselves and their families.
The initial step is to attract and educate as many men as possible because, “International development actors are now realizing that if you don’t change men’s attitudes towards women, then gender programs which focus on women first won’t be successful, and in many cases can bring about increased dangers to women,” said Christina Fink, director of international development studies at George Washington University.
As the team ensures the overall implementing plan of the gender training, we move toward our destination. A Zardozi staff member repeats the training materials with the Kadars, who were Zardozi clients for almost 10 years before securing the position of Kadar. One of the reasons why Zardozi choose Kadars to give the training is to focus on demonstrating their success and higher positions to other women in the session, to inspire and motivate them to reach their goals as confidently as the Kadars did.
Although the Kadars are nervous about their big day, they are ready to give it their best shot and arrive at a big room of a mosque in Kala e Khater where the men, community leaders, Mullah and Zardozi clients have gathered. The gathering starts well, with men and women sitting facing each other and being introduced. They cover several topics followed by group workshops, discussing the roles and responsibilities of men and women, recognizing the importance of both gender’s roles and the disadvantages of gender inequality.
The room is filled with the men and women nodding their heads in agreement, realizing that these topics were of great importance. During the training, the Mullah also spoke about the prominent women in Islam including Bibi Khadija (a prosperous business woman) and Fatima (ع) who had joined in the struggle in defense of the noble mission of her father, Prophet Muhammad. The Mullah appreciated Zardoz’s work and promoted the equal rights of
women and men in Islam. In a religious country like Afghanistan, where a father complies with the verdict of his village’s mullahs and publicly executes his daughter, religious scholars are very influential in local society. Therefore, to be successful in its vision, Zardozi needs the support of open-minded men, particularly the Mullahs, to support its’ programs.
Shafiq, a participant of the training, said that the group activity helped him in thinking thoroughly about why the role of women is valuable. “I didn’t like my sister going to the Manbeh, because I was influenced by the ideology of my friends who consider it shameful for women to go outside of the home, but the training forced me to think carefully about things that I had never bothered myself about.”
In family life women are not appreciated for their home chores as men are for their work but Salma and her husband Ali, after writing about each other’s chores and timing those chores in a group work were surprised by the outcome. Ali said he realized that his wife works more hours than him and her efforts are worth as much appreciation as his own but he had always failed to recognize them.
The Zardozi team gender training to men and women ran successfully, yet it should be noted that some participants were disapproving and critical and left. Despite this the team did not give up on the rest of the participants who showed support and warmly welcomed it. Spreading awareness about significant matters like gender equality is Zardozi’s top priority to change perspectives and pave the way for its programs to run smoothly. Nothing is free of challenges in Afghanistan!