Afghan Women Set an Example

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Women are providing for their families by taking on jobs traditionally done by men

23 January 2012 | Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan

Three decades of war have brought tremendous economic pressure on Afghan households. While men are the traditional breadwinners, the husband is disabled or deceased in many homes. It is difficult for a single woman to keep her family together in a society that discourages them from working outside of the home.

A USAID project is providing short-term jobs to around 400 women in the strategic southern province of Hilmand. The cash-for-work activities put women to work rehabilitating women's schools and parks, creating opportunities for much-needed household income that increases domestic stability.

These women remember the oppressive Taliban regime and know that family stability is the key to a stable future. But stability can't happen in homes without money for basic expenses. Nearly 100 students, teachers, and other local women worked to rehabilitate the grounds of the Lashkari Bazaar Girls' High School in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Safe from the prying eyes of local men, they took up shovels, wheelbarrows, and pickaxes.

Zaghunah is a widow in her fifties whose husband was killed nine years ago. She works long hours as a seamstress for friends and neighbors, but needs additional money to put her boys through school. She feels that education is the key to preventing a Taliban return. “The uneducated and the poor fight this war. If we have jobs, we can support our children and send them to school. Then the next generation will be educated and they will not start wars.”

“I tell my younger sons to study hard, but they say, "My brothers graduated and they are still jobless. Why should I study?” said Zakria, the mother of five whose youngest son traces his homework in the sand while she works. “I tell them that the future of this country will be better one day, that there will be jobs when they grow up. It's important for me to set an example.”