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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Afghanistan: Ensuring Equality—Patiently, If Need Be

Giving women a voice is an important part of what we do. The reality is, in many poor communities there are long held traditions and beliefs that make putting women in positions of leadership challenging, to say the least. But from a results-based perspective, helping women to achieve makes nothing but sense. It makes the job of eliminating chronic poverty that much easier. Women work exceptionally hard for their families and villages.

In Afghanistan, the road to gender equality is steep. But we are in it for the long haul. Our typical practice, when we help villages to form the groups that serve the community in special ways (like governing how a clean water system is used) is to require female as well as male members.

However, in Afghanistan’s poorest villages, it is not common practice for men and women to sit together in meetings. It is the poor themselves who must organize to improve their lives, and we cannot impose upon them to do what is not within their will to do. But our staff in Afghanistan are committed to ensuring that women still have an opportunity to act as leaders, so they have formed a separate group for women called the Village Development Committee. They are charged with getting women in their village to become more involved with anti-poverty work.

The ideal, from our perspective, is to have total equality and cooperation, but we are working with the poor, not against them. When we find a method that achieves an important aim—like giving women leadership opportunities—and also feels comfortable, culturally, for the people involved, we go for it.

Change is slow, but it is worthwhile. We know the women in the Village Development Committee would agree.