Tag Archive: International Women’s Day

My entire dream came true

By Narges Ghafary
World Vision Afghanistan

Afghanistan is one of the most challenging places in the world to be a woman; more women die in pregnancy and childbirth than almost anywhere else in the world. One in 50 women will die during pregnancy or childbirth—one every two hours. Women have more than five children on average, yet one out of 10 children die before their fifth birthday.

The only good news is that these statistics have substantially improved in the last few years with World Vision’s commitment through its health programmes.

After three decades of warfare, Afghan women are taking reconstruction, coupled with creating social change, into their own hands.

Shafiqa is a 45 year old widow who lost her husband in the war. She is now the single mother of five sons.

“Now I am working in health mobile team in remote areas where there is no clinic and health staff. I go to remote areas with four of my male colleagues; I am the only woman in their team. We stay one week in each remote area and nights we have to stay in Arbab’s home [village elder], at Thursday we will [go] back to the city to spend the weekend with our families. Some of my female colleagues advise me to leave my job because it is so dangerous but I never do that because I think all success in my life is due to pray[ers] of these people [people in remote area]. It is difficult to be far from family for one week but when people are happy to see us, I forget all difficulties,” she says.

She is a successful example of the Afghan woman who has endured difficult days and has fruitful children who are as proud of her as she is of them.

“We lived in Kabul, I had 21 years old and my husband was clerk, we had a good and nice life until my husband was killed in the war and left me alone with five children.” She takes a deep breath and continues, “I lived with my husband’s family, when I lost my husband they [tried to force] me to marry with my brother-in-law.”

In some parts of Afghanistan, marriage with surviving brothers is common. As a young widow with five children she had two choices: to marry her brother-in-law or to lose everything and live an uncertain future with her children.

“I loved my husband, my conscience did not allow something like this so when I didn’t accept marriage with their son they threw me out of the house with five children, my last child [was] only one year old,” Shafiqa said.

Many Afghan widows struggle for survival. After their husbands’ deaths, the women are faced with rape, poverty and social condemnation. Especially if they live without family support, they are vulnerable and some of them even consider ending their lives as an alternative to the risks they are certain to face.

“[His family] even [kept] my husband’s [inheritance]. I didn’t have any family; they were missing in the war, so I decided to leave Kabul before my husband family got back my children too. I lived in immigration camp with my children in Herat. I passed awful days; my older son had only eight years. We didn’t have equipment for living; even we hadn’t glass to drink tea or hadn’t enough dress to put on in the winter so I had to work all day. My husband liked our children to be educated so their education was another responsibility for me. I had to work three shifts to fight with poverty, I worked in the office as a typesetter in the morning, as a registration person in one private clinic at evening and I had to sew at night. Everything was going good until Afghanistan was occupied by Taliban.”

During the rule of the Taliban women were treated worse than at any other time. They were forbidden to work, leave the house without a male escort, or seek medical help from a male doctor, and they were forced to cover themselves from head to toe, even covering their eyes.

Women who were doctors and teachers were forced to leave their work and sit at home, and girls were forbidden to go to school as a result of the prevalent ultraconservative policies of that period.

“That time I couldn’t work outside so I had to rotate the wheel of life with sewing and clothes washing in people homes. After leaving of Taliban I continued my work at the clinic in registration; as my children grew up gradually their needs became more and more and in the other hand the rent of house was increased and my salary wasn’t enough so I had to find a way.

By the clinic head I was informed [of] World Vision’s midwifery programme.”

World Vision has been conducting midwifery education programmes in Herat since 2011 to reduce maternal and newborn mortality.

“[In] childhood I liked to be a nurse or doctor so it was a great opportunity for me, after graduation I could help woman and children as well as I could have an income for my family so my children’s future will be guaranteed. First it was so hard, I studied, worked and took care of my children, but I [dreamed of a] lighter future. My children had gone to school in the morning and worked in the tailor shop and workshop at the evening to help me [in] supporting of family.

After graduation as there was lack of midwife, immediately I found work in clinic as a midwife. Day by day my children grew up and were about to finish high school. I was near to my husband’s dream. Now could support my family as well as save money for their future. I collected my money and made family for my two older sons [who] now are working in remote areas as translators.”

Shafiqa is on the right

She laughs and says, “Now I have a grandson. My last child will graduate from high school next year. I always saw these days [as a] dream; actually I have this success from prayers of people that I treated when there wasn’t a trained health staff to help them. Pity that my husband isn’t here to see these days and be proud of his children and my education,” Shafiqa said.

Marriage later, studies first

By Gloria Das
World Vision Bangladesh

In a Bangladeshi village, a group of school girls trill a little melody inside a classroom. They are celebrating. The marriage of their friend, 15-year-old Suborna Khanam, has been annulled.

The young girls who gather in this classroom are the members of a children’s group that works with World Vision. Suborna, a sponsored child who lives in Maksudpur ADP, who is among them, and is in Grade 10.


This youth group is one she helped start, along with her friends, so that she could become more engaged with social and development work. Little did she know that she would one day need their assistance.

“The Child Forum’s collective are sowing seeds of change. There are weekly meetings where we get together in a safe place to learn, have fun, and talk about what is happening in our communities. We learn about the links between teenage pregnancy and high rates of infant and maternal mortality and all the other adverse health effects of early marriage. The members are sensitised about their rights,” Suborna says.

The group has been working with World Vision since 2010. Such collectives are part of child-focused interventions of World Vision Bangladesh to boost the confidence of teenage children and to fight child marriage – a practice that continues across the country, particularly in rural communities, despite a legal ban.

Suborna is in a red headscarf

“World Vision has changed my life,” Suborna says.

Recently, Suborna’s father came to the school. He had decided to take his daughter back home, as he arranged a partner for her. A groom with a plot of land of his own and with a little dowry was found. Suborna’s wish of continuing her education was considered a luxury that could hardly be afforded. The family did not have the spare money for the additional expenses and reasoned that marriage was the better option.

“When my father told me I was going to be married off, I felt my life had been ruined. I visualized a life like that of my mother—marriage, lots of children. Full stop. All dreams shattered,” Suborna says.

She immediately protested. She told her friends in the Bandhan Child Forum. When the group learned about Suborna’s situation, they immediately intervened and contacted her parents.

“We were sure we’d be able to prevent her wedding,” says a confidence Raihan, the group’s leader. “We talked to her parents at length and tried to make them understand what evils early marriage involves. Finally, we succeeded and Suborna came back to school,” Raihan smiles.

At school, Suborna was performing brilliantly.

“Neither of her parents can read nor write. So, she was not supposed to be allowed to go to school,” explains Suborna’s uncle. “The village (her parents live in) also does not have any high school and she would have had to travel 3km if she wanted to continue her studies. So, I took her with me,” he says. From primary school to current day, Suborna has stayed with her uncle.

But as her uncle is also a landless farmer, like her parents, he did not have enough income to take care of his niece’s educational expenses alone. Soon after Suborna came to live with him, he learned about World Vision’s sponsorship programme from one of his neighbours. Suborna then became involved with Muksudpur ADP’s child sponsorship programme and received educational support, including special coaching classes organised for the sponsored children of the ADP.

Things were passing smoothly. Suborna passed her primary school studies with good results and then was admitted to Grade 6 at a high school in Muksudpur Upazila.

“I was just thrilled with joy when I remember the first day of my new class. I still could feel the smell of my new books. Thank you World Vision, my real friend in need,” Suborna says.

In secondary school, after her parents initially told her she would have to get married and returned to school, Suborna continued to achieve good marks.

“I can remember the day when our class teacher called me and gave me the good news – I stood first in the class,” Suborna says.

Suborna decided to go back home to share the good news with her parents. But Suborna’s parents were unimpressed. Instead, they again raised the issue of marriage.

“I was so unhappy about the marriage. This time I told my mother who also did not agree with me and they locked me at my room. Then I sought help,” she says.

Scared, Suborna made a plan. She pretended to become seriously ill and was taken to a nearby hospital. At the hospital, she snuck out and returned to her uncle’s place. She was safe, at least for the time being.

“From her childhood, she was not like other girls of her age. There was something different in her. I was so impressed to see her strong confidence to stand up to wrong, to care for others and especially for her strong craving for higher studies,” says Helal Qazi, Suborna’s 40-year-old uncle.

Back at her uncle’s place, Suborna immediately contacted with Child Forum members and informed them about the incident. They, in turn, contacted a World Vision child forum coordinator who worked for the Muksudpur ADP.

The child forum coordinator talked to Suborna’s parents and explained the law, as well as other implications, related to child marriage. Finally, her parents gave their consent for their daughter to not get married before she turns 18. However, they also stated that they could no longer afford to pay any expenses related to Suborna.

Finally Suborna’s marriage was put on hold.

To help her earn money, World Vision helped Suborna complete a seven-month Life Skills Based Education (LSBE) course. She now works as a facilitator and coaching volunteer groups to work at the community level. She works on campaigns and teaches rural households about different social and development issues like health, water, sanitation and hygiene, women and child rights, dowries, women’s empowerment and violence against women.. She is now getting Taka 800 (RM34) per session and facilitates 16 sessions in a month.

“This course leads to better psycho-social competence and helps participants to make responsible decisions and build the competency to lead a healthy and productive life. It is also helpful for developing leadership capacity of adolescents. At the same time, I could work for my community’s development also,” Suborna says.

Monika Biswas, the child forum coordinator of Muksudpur ADP, says, “World Vision use a multi-pronged approach for child development – empowering adolescents by forming child forums, building youth groups to work on child marriage issues, Life Skill Based Education courses (LSBE), women groups, children in schools, etc. Along with all this, we aim to integrate a community-based strategy involving village leaders, community groups and government departments to reintegrate children into formal school system. These initiatives became an integral element of our work on child marriage.”

As Suborna’s story illustrates, success stems from this collective approach. She is now a household name in her community when it comes to protesting against underage marriage.

“We decided to join hands and campaign against the evils of child marriage. We enjoy certain privileges like being able to go inside the house and communicate with the women – something men don’t,” Suborna explains.

Suborna’s track record is quite commendable. She and her child forum friends also prevented many other underage marriages in her village. Grade 6 students Kamalika, Chaity and Dipti and Grade 7 student Hena are some of the names who went back to school, thanks to Suborna’s initiative.

Suborna is in a red headscarf

“World Vision has made my parents to proud of me. I finally made my father understand that his daughters could be his support in old age. And I succeeded. My youngest two sisters are now also going to school,” Suborna says smilingly.

“Now my eyes are filled with new dreams, dreams of hope and aspiration. I want to study more and become a teacher in the future so that I could improve up my community with an education,” she says.

Shahid Fakir, who was once disgusted with his daughter’s obstinacy, is a proud father today. “I was going to make a big mistake, but my daughter stopped us in the nick of time,” he smiles.