Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
In 2014, the Institute for Women’s Peace and Security (RIWPS) in Afghanistan, in conjunction with WLUML-WELDD, conducted trainings and workshops on women’s rights from an Islamic perspective.
The training was organized by RIWPS and Afghan Trust Association (ATA), and co-ordinated with Kateb University. The main emphasis of this training was a handbook, written in the regional language of Farsi, that was used in these seminars to educate participants on stoning, honour killing, flogging, forced marriage and other form of culturally-justified violence against women.
Too many women’s organizations and activists, when working on the issue of violence against women, don’t have the required tools to engage in a constructive dialogue with religious and conservative groups who use Islam or culture to justify violence against women. This handbook was produced as a result of this, so as to give these organisations the right advocacy tools to argue against in this debate.
These trainings drew participants including female and male activists, women leaders, and students, from Kabul, Logar, Baghlan and Bamyan.
Male participants were included specifically to help increase their knowledge about women’s rights in Islam and to bring about a change in their behavior and mentality. The trainers encouraged a healthy, open discussion, creating space for plenty of question-and-answer sessions. They wanted to ensure that all participants received the information adequately and clearly. This session impressed on the unique perspective of comparing Afghanistan’s legal system with that of other Islamic countries to point out the mismatch, and thereby confirm how much laws have been subject to individual interpretation.
The participants were educated on Islamic arguments concerning adultery, stoning, and the prevention of violence against women. Other issues, such as women’s rights as human rights under Islam, were added as suggested by RIWPS. This information promises to carry forward as each participants goes on their activist journey.
RIWPS disseminated over 500 copies of the report among women’s organizations and activists, and was also given to the Kateb University library to keep and circulate between students.
Follow-ups after the training:
A young activist and student from Ghazni wrote an article on child marriage, and shared it with about a hundred attendees at a local wedding ceremony. All the readers appreciated her article, and enthusiastically promised to share this newfound Islamic perspective on this issue with many others. The activist argues that this Islamic knowledge should be taught in its right form to the new generation from the very beginning, as it is them who have the most power to affect change in the situation.
Another participant gained higher self-confidence, and was able to share what she had learned and to implement it in her community.
A third participant, also a young activist and student, shared the story of her neighbor who had forced her daughter to get married before she had even reached the legal age. This participant advised the young girl to continue her education and finish high school before getting married, and the next day, had a conversation with her parents on the same. She shared the Islamic perspective and the Afghani civil law, which she says she would not have known about before. And after a long discussion, the neighbours agreed to stop the marriage.
Next is Ms. Fahima*, also a young activist and student. She explained how she shared what she learned in the trainings first with her family, and then to a wider circle of her close relatives and friends. “I am so delighted when I see the changes in their lives,” she says; “and all of it, only because I participated in this workshop, and learned about women’s rights form an Islamic perspective.”
Another participant shared the story of her male cousin, a university student, who approached her after the training to ask what she had learned. “I gave him five copies of the booklet,” she says. “After reading it, my cousin hared my opinion that this booklet was very effective and necessary, as it was because people didn’t have much Islamic knowledge that there was so much violence against women.” Her cousin promised to share his new learnings with his friends, and to circulate the booklet where he could. He also asked whether a similar training session could be held for men in other provinces as well.
Mashal*, a thirty-two year old youth activist living in the Ghazni province, faced harrowing violence at home due to an incident that would otherwise be considered trivial. She went to collect materials from her university, where her photograph was captured along with some other women working there. She was veiled in the photograph, but even so, her brother-in-law beat her badly for it, breaking her hand and injuring her head, requiring her admittance to a forensic hospital. While at this hospital, she shared her story with the staff, adding that her brother-in-law was taking care of her while her husband was away in Iran. When Nosheen*, one of the participants of the workshop, heard about this incident, she asked Mashal to call her brother-in-law so she could speak to him. He did, and Nosheen advised him that he has no rights to beat her up, and must stop since it is against Sharia law. She explained this to other women as well, narrating lots of verses and the Prophet’s hadith. The brother-in-law finally realized his mistake and promised not to do something like that again in the future.
For RIWPS, partnering with WLUML was hugely beneficial. Through the international network, they were able to connect globally with women’s rights activists and scholars. In addition, participating in the United Nations 57thCommission on the Status of Women in New York created an important lobbying opportunity with women from other countries, and with international partners.
A pilot initiative for RIWPS, this workshop was to see how well the idea would be received. What they observed, in fact, was that this resource actually multiplied once it was introduced; there was a large amount of interest in the issue, coming from both men and women, in learning about Islamic rights for women. It indicated that young women now felt empowered and stronger because they had strong arguments—“weapons” was how they referred to them in their own language—to fight for their rights.
This booklet is currently only available in Farsi, and can be downloaded by clicking the link below.
For more information on RIWPS, their website can be found here.