When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, women were very much second class citizens. They were not allowed to work, girls were not educated, their lives were restricted beyond belief. Widows, unable to support their families, mourned helplessly as their children starved.
With the fall of the Taliban came hope that women would find a new freedom and equality in daily life. Widows could work and feed their children. Those children could now learn and play and prepare for a life to the fullest of their potentials. World In Need was heavily involved in this. We set up the Children's Day Care Centre, where children, boys AND girls could receive an education, a daily meal, somewhere safe to play. Children are sponsored, enabling them to attend school and grow up with opportunities they may otherwise have missed. A food programme ensures the children all receive a meal each day – for many it is the only meal they will eat.
An art programme at the centre discovered that many of the older centre users had a gift for painting and we export their work and sell it. The youngsters are very talented, and this can be seen by viewing some of the paintings at http://www.worldinneed.co.uk/store/index.php?cPath=28&osCsid=dbmmhqdan1d91q44h5ulohf091
Half the proceeds of the sales are used to fund the running of the centre, and the other half is given to the artist, enabling them to contribute to family finances. We also help their mothers, by operating a carpet weaving scheme. Afghan carpets are renowned the world over for their beauty, durability and value. The widows in our scheme weave such carpets, which we then export and sell for them.
However, things are not all plain sailing. Opposition can and has affected some of our projects. For example, we were running a literacy programme, teaching women to read and thus enabling them to reach their fullest potential. This summer, our office in Kabul was firebombed, and we were forced to close its doors. Thankfully, no-one was hurt or killed, but the literacy programme was an unfortunate casualty of the bomber's actions. We hope to restart it in the future.
Discrimination against women in Afghanistan has not disappeared overnight. Although things are undoubtedly better than they were under the Taliban, there is still a long way to go, as highlighted in a new report by Human Rights Watch. It makes for disturbing reading. You can find out for yourself at http://www.hrw.org/en/node/86807