By Eleanor Wylie in Kabul - reporting on a visit to the Young Women for Change internet cafe
Article first published on eleanorwylie.com and reproduced here with kind permission of the author
To expand on my previous post about the changing tide of bad news in Kabul, the real turning point for me was a visit to Young Women for Change (YWC), an Afghan NGO on the Darulaman Road that hosted a women’s evening Thursday, September 20.
Young Women for Change established the first women’s only internet cafe in Afghanistan which is named after Sahar Gul, a young woman forced into marriage at an early age and subsequently tortured by her husband. The cafe responds to a real need for female school pupils and university students who can use the research available online in their academic studies without fear of harassment from men or suspicion from their families.
Some might say it’s a slippery slope dividing normal amenities along such lines, creating a ‘separate but not very equal’ society with improved facilities, but a foundation of Saudi-style gender apartheid in the long term.
These girls, however, don’t have long term for us to sit on our high horses and force through gender integration from nursery school upwards.
They need to make the most out of the educational opportunities available to them as Afghanistan experiences the same bulge in its youth population as much of the Middle East with all the attendant impact on employment and resources. If a female-only environment is the solution and gives them permission to get out of the house and into university then I’m all for it. We have this alarmist view of single sex institutions in the West that must be challenged.
The women I met on Thursday were welcoming, sweet, but determined to improve the situation for women in their country without the potentially credibility-damaging financial contribution of Western agencies. I feel privileged every day to be here in this beautiful, challenging country, but that evening of music and chatter reminded me that for every extremist woman willing to drive a bus of explosives into a car of foreigners, there are thousands of intelligent, strong, and compassionate women trying to improve the lives of all Afghan women.
They need our help, but we must recognise they deserve our unending admiration.
Eleanor Wylie, originally from Glasgow, is a development worker in Kabul.
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Disclaimer: Views here do not necessarily reflect those of Young Women for Change, or of Safeworld or its staff.
Young Women for Change is an independent non-profit organization consisting of dozens of volunteer women and male advocates across Afghanistan.
It was established to empower women across Afghanistan and recruit them to the struggle for gender equality.