“Some examples of great leaders are Ashraf Ghani, Karzai, our fathers, and our husbands,” answered a group of women when the leadership trainer asked them about who they recognize as leaders. But none of the examples of great leaders were women. Even when women play central roles in their families and societies, they are still undermined—a result of the lack of awareness that people have about the positions and potentials of women. Most of the women in the room don’t recognize the fact that they, too, are leaders, and that they make an equal contribution to society as their male counterparts.
Zardozi acknowledges this problem by sequencing its priorities, determining which programs can best fulfill the needs of women. We have set leadership trainings at the top of the agenda because these workshops help build women’s sense of importance to step out of their homes and make a difference.
As the information circles around the room, more women speak up about what leadership is and who can be a leader. Samina, 18 and educated, says, “All mothers are leaders.” Frozan also jumps in to explain the traits of good leaders: “A leader should be open minded, educated, honest, be able to solve people’s problems, and be a person who has a vision for the betterment of the future.” The trainer, Ms. Farida, simultaneously asks different questions from the 10 women who are present in the room on Tuesday’s session. Since most of these women have not had access to basic education, Ms. Farida acquires different ways to help the trainees understand better. In her training materials bag, she brings leadership related pictures (mostly images of female leaders), a laptop to show various videos, and other materials that can be used in performing games or carrying out role-plays.
In her feedback, Zarina speaks about her experience, “I haven’t missed even one day of the training sessions. Attending these classes has helped me know myself and my value. Now I know that yes, women can be leaders, too!” She further adds, “Women are not made for hiding at the corners of their rooms. We have had strong female leaders back in history and we still see them standing there for the rights of other women and building this country.”
Zardozi’s leadership program not only spreads general awareness, but aims to empower more women to engage in Nisfe-Jahan—to evolve into an organization that will be entirely run by women and for women. The program educates women to vote for and choose Nisfe-Jahan’s leaders who will then represent them and provide them with support. All of these efforts and work for the empowerment of women do come at a cost. Zardozi’s long term goal in attracting larger number of women is a challenging task. While some women attend Zardozi programs secretly, others face abuse on the street while going to the Community Business Centers (Manbeh). The number of women attending the trainings drops at certain times while Zardozi staff has to make settlements with community leaders and local Mullahs. These groups then collaborate with Zardozi by holding meetings with community members to encourage families to allow their wives and sisters to take advantage of the services.