۰۹ عقر Dare to step…
Dare to step and dare to be a woman of change. This is not my idea, nor the idea of a single woman: it has been said by many women during my fieldwork this year. A woman from Nangarhar said to me: “it is difficult, but women have to start from somewhere…”. Another woman from Balkh said: “we have to bear, if there is no pain, there would be no gain.”, and a woman in Bamyan told me: “I can’t stay calm at home.”
Extremism, cultural taboos, insecurity and many other barriers and challenges stand in the way of these women, but they have raised their voice and stood up to turn these challenges into strengths. They resemble phoenixes, rising from their ashes. These women have risen from the ashes of war, conflict, discrimination, and deprivations. One of these taboo breakers is Lailuma.
Lailuma studied until sixth grade and is just literate, but this could not stop her from sitting at home as other women do. She showed that education cannot be a woman’s weakness. A woman should be eager and have the will to start working and break taboos in a male dominant society. Lailuma is the founder of a Handicrafts company in Bamyan, and she has become a hope for many other women in her area. Fifty people are working in her factory, and many other women work for her from their homes.
This was not an easy road: she has faced many challenges as a businesswoman. At the beginning of her business, her husband was her only supporter, standing beside her, and he never listened to other people’s thoughts. Unlike other men, he encouraged his wife. He was the one who handled and managed products in the market. Lailuma said: “In the first years, my husband had to sit in the shop, and I was going to visit the shop and the market twice a day.” Going twice in a day to the bazaar (market), she wanted to show people that women can go to bazaar too, and that she will never give up. Working and living in a society like Afghanistan is not easy for a woman like her. She has to balance on one side her goal and aim, and on the other side her pride and ego. “I liked to participate in any kind of capacity building workshops and seminars, so I was attending any programs, even where I was not formally invited. To keep my pride and ego, I was selecting the third or fourth row to sit. I was worried that, if I sit in the first or second row, and someone asked me to get up to sit somewhere else, it would make me embarrassed. Maybe it would discourage me not to attend such programs anymore.”
She is not only a businesswoman, but a women’s rights activist who defends women’s rights and other women’s issues. She encourages other women to be active and have their own income. She has encouraged and made arrangements for tens of women who did not have a tazkira (national ID) to get one and persuade them to participate in the elections.
She believes that only women can help women, if they just dare to take a step. Three things can make a woman able to stand and start working in a male-dominant society: literacy, knowledge, and awareness. She showed these all by her actions, and despite receiving many warnings, she never gave up, and would like to stand even more strongly than in the past.
The response to the question of how women can improve better and have sustainable participation, is one and the same. Only a woman can help another woman, and so women need one strong political, economic, social, and cultural network. This form of network should not necessarily be project based. Women need to be connected with each other. As Lailuma told me, “Look at you, you have no idea how you gave me ideas regarding better participation on different fields in society and made me think differently, in order to become better decision makers.” This point made me reflect on my field trips to 14 provinces of Afghanistan, and how I have heard and received calls from women I met sharing with me the impact our encounters had on them. Women do need a network to be connected from every corner of this country and the world.