Women's Cooperatives and Social Change in Afghanistan

Remember all the coverage of Afghanistan and the terror inflicted upon women during 2001 and 2002?  Even though our news corps do not find it worthwhile (or have not been told) to report on the state of women there, the women of this tormented part of the world are still waiting for any significant change to occur.

Suraya Pakzad, executive director of the Voice of Women Organisation (VWO), one of the leading NGOs in Afghanistan says, as reported in today in The Penninsula, “The regime change in Afghanistan is yet to deliver the expected results as far the position of women in the country is concerned.”  She notes that improvements have occurred but that local customs are often confused with religious teachings and that practices routed in custom will be difficult to begin to change.  Child marriage is one such widespread practice that must be stopped (it is already illegal) if the status of women is to be generally improved.  Enforcement of existing rules and more legal protection for women and education can improve the situation, but economics enters into it too;  huge dowries in poverty stricken areas can be a huge incentive for poverty-stricken families. 

One-quarter of the seats in the Afghani Parliament and the provincial councils were set aside for women so in some ways these women have a better potential for real representation than American women who must conquer the corporate money battle to become a representative. 

In an article on womensradio.com a very useful albeit  informal women’s councils or shuras is described by Suraya.

During the elections, she (Suraya) concentrated on women’s voting rights, but the group’s main focus is on bolstering the network of women’s shuras–or quasi-government councils–in the villages that surround Herat.

Politics is part of what gets discussed at the shuras, Pakzad said, but the main point is to simply gather women together so they can talk and discuss issues without the oversight of men.

The shuras also enable women to create cottage industries from their homes, such as textile manufacturing. The shuras also provide start-up funds and consolidated space for manufacturing by bringing looms under one roof.

Again, we in the west could learn from these women.  Perhaps we need to establish shuras in impoverished areas of our own country.  Small business loans and other programs that help women in business are fine, but they do not provide the supportive structure of the shura nor foster the collective creativity  that women’s cooperatives do.  A BPW luncheon isn’t the same.  The women’s groups are structured like men’s organizations that sprung up in the days of male controlled business and industry.  Perhaps to foster change we should look at alternative structures for new types of women’s work/life organizations. 

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