Afghan Women Move Out

Most of the news these days from Afghanistan seems depressing. More civilians killed in what were supposed to be attacks on insurgents; more “night letters” distributed; more schools destroyed.

But that’s an example of how our media can focus on the negative. An article in the fall issue of Ms. magazine focuses on the positive. I thought it would be a cheerful thing to write about for the 100th International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8.

One woman in her late twenties, Fatima Hakim Zada, has started a construction business with her uncle to respond to the country’s obvious need. She appears to be a natural entrepreneur; under the Taliban, she and her mother started a carpet-making company from their home that employed women from their neighborhood. Since women were forbidden to have jobs outside the home under the Taliban, Hakim Zada and her mother most likely enabled a number of their neighbors to survive those brutal years.

The Afghan Army is training women in the areas of logistics and finance, and women are also studying at police academies. Wahida says, “I want women to stand by their brothers and defend their country.”

What cheered me the most was the news that Afghanistan now has 2,600 trained midwives, up from 467 in 2002. Afghanistan has a maternal death rate of 1,600 per 100,000 live births, one of the highest in the world. I believe the US rate is 13 per 100,000 births, one of the highest in the industrialized world. To put it another way, 1 in 8 Afghan women are at risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes; the US rate is 1 in 4,800, which has doubled in the past 20 years. Ireland is at the top of the world, with 1 woman in 47,600 dying from pregnancy-related causes.

So the news about Afghan women being trained as midwives is very good indeed.

“At the beginning we had to sit with the community shuras (councils of elders) and elders and mullahs and really advocate for them to let their sisters, daughters, and wives work as midwives in the community,” said Mushtari [acting president of the Afghan Midwives Association]. “Now when we say we have 20 openings in the midwifery program, we receive 2,000 applications because, number one, they see these women can immediately start serving their families, neighbors, and community, and, number two, women have money; they earn a salary and can help their fathers and husbands and families.”

Source: “Afghan Women Rising,” Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Ms. magazine, Fall 2010