Afghanistan is all too often the scene of tragedy, but one incident recently touched the country like no other. It involved the lynching of a young woman, just 27 years old, by a savage mob in the streets of Kabul. The name of the woman was Farkhunda.
What happened to Farkhunda was an act of particular savagery, with her murderers going to extraordinary lengths to vent their anger. Beaten, pulled off a roof when she tried to escape, pelted with wooden planks and run over with a car, her dead body was then burnt. Police reportedly just stood by and did not intervene. One cannot imagine the terror that young woman faced over the several hours of the ordeal.
News and images of the event quickly spread via social media and shocked the world. After some confusion, the lead up to the incident was eventually revealed. Farkhunda, a scholar of Islamic Studies, had taken exception to the selling of tawiz by a mullah at Kabul’s Shah-Do Shamshira mosque and, lashing out in defense, he falsely accused her publicly of burning pages of the Qu’ran. It was enough to unleash a horrible string of events.
Although an obvious tragedy, Farkhunda’s death does seem to have caused an awakening in Afghanistan. This is a country that is no stranger to violence against women, but this incident has been seen as the last straw.
Not long after the world saw news images of women defiantly taking control of Farkhunda’s body on the banks of the Kabul River to take her to burial. This was a pronounced break with tradition that relegates such a task to men only.
As the next few days and weeks unfolded Afghanistan seemed to be in a state of shock, trying to come to terms with the brutality of it all, but amongst all this the women had become strangely empowered.
As someone that has been focused on the vulnerable of Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, Mahboba Rawi, founder of the Australian organisation Mahboba’s Promise, was struck by this unexpected resolve.
“The day of the incident I spent all night with activists and women’s leaders in Afghanistan,” recounts Mahboba. “They were ready to take a stand and there is a big opportunity there for women over there to push back.”
It is often stated that one of the most powerful ways to empower women is through education. By being educated women are able take on roles that establish them as respected members within the fabric of community.
In this field Mahboba’s Promise has had some remarkable successes. Their Abdara Girls’ School in Panjshir Valley is a case in point. When it opened in 2001 in an area that was totally unfamiliar with the concept of educating girls there was even some local resistance. Now however, attitudes have changed so much that it is embraced by all.
The challenge now however, as recognised by Mahboba, is how to sustain that development path for girls beyond high school so that it entrenches their role in the community to which they belong.
“Producing girls with a high school education is a huge step forward, but in reality their options from there are still limited. We now need to talk about further education,” Mahboba points out.
The obvious work choices for women in a country like Afghanistan, and the jobs they can do to help them becoming self-sufficient and valuable to the community, are those such as midwifery, nursing and teaching. In 2014 around 20 girls from Abdara were trained in hygiene, maternity care, disease control and first aid. Now they are fully functioning community nurses in a district where, just by being able to conduct the simple task of measuring blood pressure, they command a huge respect in the community!
Mahboba’s Promise completed another similar project in Badakhshan Province in December 2014..
It is from this renewed respect for the role of women in the community that will bring about true change for women in Afghanistan, according to Mahboba Rawi. Recently her organisation set up an appeal that will support young women through further education courses.
Find out how you can help support a young woman through further education by contacting the office of Mahboba’s Promise on 02 9887 1665 or [email protected]