Widows are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan, facing unimaginable hardship in a country torn apart by decades of war.
Amina* is a 25-year-old widow living in Afghanistan, raising her disabled daughter. She was forcibly married at the age of 16, and her husband took his own life while Amina was pregnant. Her husband’s family blamed her for his death and as a result, Amina was left victim to violence and abuse by her in-laws.
Amina’s story is similar to millions other women in Afghanistan. Almost forty-years of instability has led to around two-million widows who have lost their husbands as a direct or indirect result of war.
In a male-centric society such as Afghanistan, widows are rejected by traditional social constructs and are regarded as burdens to society.
According to the United Nations Report 2014, more than a quarter of the widows interviewed had experienced violence after their husband’s death, mostly by their husband’s affiliates.
Amina was kept as a prisoner in her in-law’s house for years, receiving no support for her disabled daughter. She finally escaped and returned home to her parents. While the physical abuse has ended, Amina continues to face the stigma of widowhood.
Widows are considered the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan, often being ostracized. Amina is considered one of the lucky ones, having a family with a male-head to return home to. According to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, at least 70,000 of Afghanistan’s widows are breadwinners for their families.
After losing their husbands, widows are left to feed and raise their children through exploitative work. Sometimes, these women find work as cleaners and street vendors, other times they are left to beg. Just as poverty begets poverty, many widows are illiterate and uneducated, increasing the hardships they face as breadwinners.
Likewise, widowhood has detrimental impacts on a widow’s children, especially girls. Extreme poverty often forces widows to withdraw their children from school in order to help put food in their mouths. Girls are usually first to be taken out of school, upholding gender-based disparities in Afghanistan.
Amina’s case is even more complex, raising a disabled daughter in a country that has no real welfare system for people living with a disability.
This case exemplifies the extent of struggle widows face living in a war-torn country. Amina can’t afford her daughter’s medication, let alone a carer or educational therapy. Such are considered a human right in Australia, while in Afghanistan they are considered luxuries.
Mahboba’s Promise has stepped in and with the help of a handful of Sponsors, Amina is now able to buy her daughter’s medication. She is also attending an accounting course three days a week to ensure she will be able to support her daughter independently in the future.
The bitter truth is that the Afghan Government lacks any real strategy to create vocational training and jobs for widows. It has been left up to aid organisations to show the Government that training and job opportunities for widows are not only possible, but work.
*Name changed for privacy reasons. Visit www.mahbobaspromise.org to learn more about their sustainable work and vocational training programs for widows.