Women For Afghan Women
With the increasing controversy surrounding the Iraq war, it is easy to forget that the United States is fighting another war in Afghanistan . As a response to the attacks of 9/11, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001, with the goal of subduing Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. The Taliban, an oppressive regime that rose in power in Afghanistan after the end of Soviet occupation, was also targeted, as it was sympathetic to Al-Qaeda and harbored its operatives within Afghanistan 's borders. While the Taliban was ousted, and a new, democratic government installed, it is regaining power in rural areas, and may once again dominate the country.
While America maintains its focus on the war on terror, the daily lives of the Afghan people are difficult and unstable. The Taliban regime was particularly brutal for women, who were forced to wear the burqa (a cumbersome, head-to-toe covering that shields a woman from being seen by men), forbidden to work alongside men (which meant that most women could not work at all) or receive an education, and severely punished if caught in public unaccompanied by a man. Women were prohibited from being treated by male doctors, and the lack of female physicians meant that many women suffered and died without medical assistance. Punishments were brutal and often carried out in public.
Annapolis business owner Fahima Vorgetts escaped from Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, and has devoted her life here to the aid of her countrywomen on the other side of the world. As a young woman in Kabul , Vorgetts was involved in the Women's Democratic Organization, the first organization in Afghanistan devoted to the cause of women's rights. She emigrated to the United States in 1979. Today, she runs Aaryana Imports on Maryland Avenue , selling rugs and other Afghan handcrafts and donating her profits to the cause of freedom for Afghan women.
She is on the board of directors of Women for Afghan Women (WAW), an organization devoted to the betterment of the lives of Afghan women. Through WAW, Vorgetts travels to Afghanistan , helping to build schools and medical centers, distributing medical supplies, and providing blankets and warm clothing. In a report from her visit in November of 2006, Vorgetts described the conditions of a burn ward at the hospital in Herat : “Self-immolation is very high among women in Herat ; many of the patients at the burn ward were these women. The hospital is in poor condition, has few medical supplies, and unpaid workers. They even recycle some of the supplies such as gauze to wrap burns. We managed to get hospital supplies for them and pay the employees' salaries (3 doctors, 7 nurses, and 3 cleaners) for a year.”
On March 7, the WAW announced the opening of its Family Guidance Center in Kabul . According to the WAW web site, “We will work with women who have survived domestic violence, forced and underage marriages, rape, and other violations of their human rights. But we will also work with their families. WAW's holistic approach to treating family crises is rooted in our belief that these crises are often caused by external factors that overwhelm and devastate family members. These factors include grinding poverty, unemployment, subhuman living conditions, trauma inflicted by decades of war and violence, and frustrated hope. Violence against women is also the consequence of the pervasive illiteracy and lack of education across Afghanistan . This puts both men and women at risk of false renderings of Islamic law. In response to these conditions the FGC will offer group and individual counseling for husbands, wives, and children. We will also offer employment and vocational training and referrals and classes on child rearing, depression, sanitation, and nutrition. Our goal is to help families break the cycle of violence and develop nurturing relationships as defined by Islam.”
Among its many programs for Afghan women, the WAW also has a program for sponsoring Afghan orphans. There are at least 400,000 orphans in Afghanistan , who are living in the poorest country in the world as well as the second most undernourished country. For $50 a month, an Afghan child is provided with food, clothing, school supplies, rent, and even bus fare.
This Fourth of July, we will celebrate our freedom and our democracy while, on the other side of the world, American soldiers fight to give others the opportunity to know those same blessings. But even the might of the U.S. military can only do so much. It takes the work of grassroots organizations such as Women for Afghan Women, and passionate people such as Fahima Vorgetts, to help complete the gargantuan task. If you would like to help the WAW in its commitment to freedom and justice for Afghan women, visit their website at WomenforAfghanWomen.org or stop by Aaryana Imports at 55 Maryland Avenue.