Honouring Farkhunda

Suraya Sadeed President of Help the Afghan Children, on finding peace and preventing violence against women in Afghanistan.

As an Afghan American, a flood of emotions filled my mind when I first heard the news about Farkhunda, the 27-year-old Afghan woman who was tragically beaten and burned by an angry mob in Kabul on March 19th for allegedly burning a copy of the Q’uran, a claim that was proven false. Now we learn that four of the 49 defendants who were brought to trial have been sentenced to death while others were given prison time for their role in the attack or found not guilty and released.

At first I became extremely depressed over her senseless torture and killing. Then I became angry when I thought about the thousands of Afghan women and girls who are being beaten, abused, maimed, burned and killed every year and no one knows their names.

After Farkhunda’s death and this trial has garnered the obligatory 15 minutes of media attention, the world will surely move on to other tragedies while brutal attacks against women and girls continue in towns, villages and homes throughout Afghanistan.

Despite the enactment of laws designed to give Afghan women greater protections against violence, harassment and discrimination, far too many women and girls remain vulnerable to such abuses. One huge stumbling block is the lack of respect and support (of women) by male religious and other leaders who wield great influence and power in their communities. In fact it was a local Imam who falsely accused Farkhunda of burning a Q’uran.

Adding to this problem is a pervasive culture of violence that runs deep in many communities where fighting and retaliation is viewed as both honorable and the only means of resolving conflicts and disputes. This cycle of violence is perpetuated in homes where women and girls are vulnerable to violence from husbands, fathers, brothers and even other women. But there is a way to end this vicious cycle of violence, and that is to educate men and even boys to not only honor and respect women and girls, but also recognize them as valuable partners in building peaceful, stable homes and communities.

Our project has four objectives. First, to teach and motivate male leaders to respect and value women as community partners, by including and involving them in local councils. Second, to educate and train parents and other family members on the use of non-violent conflict resolution methods in homes, thereby reducing abuse and threatening behavior toward women and girls. Third, to educate Afghan boys in schools to reject violence and adopt the principles of peaceful, everyday living, which has historically reduced fighting and aggressive behaviors. And finally to educate women and girls about their rights and protections and empower them to take more active roles in local community affairs.

Our task will not be easy and we face enormous challenges, but through education we have seen Afghan teachers abandoning their corporal punishment practices in our schools; Afghan husbands changing their abusive behaviors and treating their wives with respect; and Afghan religious and community leaders in targeted villages teaching the principles of non-conflict resolution and peace-building for all citizens. To me, this is the best way we can honor Farkhunda and the tens of thousands of Afghan women and girls who have needlessly died as a result of violence.

Suraya Sadeed is the President of Help the Afghan Children and has an innovation grant for her work from DFID’s global research and innovation programme, What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, www.whatworks.co.za

The change-makers inspiring us

What Works was fortunate enough this week to spend a morning with a group of young activists, from across Asia and the Pacific, brought together by the United Nations Secretary General’s UNiTE campaign to End Violence Against Women in the Asia-Pacific, all committed to ensuring that the next generation of people grow up free from violence.

UNiTE has developed a handy toolkit for young activists working to end violence against women and girls. The Change-Makers, was developed by and for youth activists working in Asia and the Pacific, but provides easily adaptable group exercises, resources, and most importantly, a guiding narrative to start talking with other young people about gender, violence against women, healthy relationships and social change.

To create a world where no one experiences violence can feel like an overwhelmingly ambitious, even impossible goal at times. But, below are some words from young activists who are already making that world a reality, to keep you inspired and full of hope.

Khaili Sopian
Student activist
Malaysia

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Why is gender equality important to you?
The issue is so embedded in society, once you realise, you see that gender differences really affect every aspect of society, even when people don’t notice it. I’m interested in it because I am Malaysian, and not everyone notices that, but I want to be someone who stands to change that.

What would help young activists working in this area?
We need more attention. Politics, censorship, a whole lot of things work to shut down anything that goes against the norm, which then means more people don’t know or aren’t aware of this issue.

Nisrina Nadnifah
Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras)
Indonesia

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Why is gender equality important to you?
My mother was a single mother who experienced violence, and I’ve seen the affects of domestic violence on her and my life. So I think that by involving myself in a movement to prevent violence against women and girls, I could be the one to make a positive contribution to another, to end violence. I believe that we will live happily if we are all equal and make a peaceful world.

What would help young activists working in this area?
More role models. For example, in my country, people are really influenced by artists, singers, famous people who promote gender equity. It would be really helpful for us as activists to have more people make this issue popular.

Ahmad Sahroni
Aliasi Laki-Laki Baru and Indonesian Plan Parenthood Association
Indonesia

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Why is gender equality important to you?
It is personal for me, and I have also worked with perpetrators, providing counseling. Men have to change, because its about our culture, behaviours and about the mind. We need to change to make things equal between men and women so we are the same – we are all just humans.

What would help young activists working in this area?
Things like this toolkit are useful because it’s simple, and helps us to deliver information that can help young people to learn about new behaviours, and to learn about what equality is.

Amitabh Kumar
Centre for Social Research
India

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Why is gender equality important to you?
India is a very patriarchal society – like most – but there we can see it on the streets, and it does not take any prisoners and we are all affected by it. For me, when all of my relationships with women are faced with this type of social wall, I cannot be at peace with it. I also feel we need to respect and celebrate uniqueness, so that is why I work on gender, I believe we are all a little bit masculine, all a little bit feminine, and that we keep changing, so we must celebrate uniqueness.

What would help young activists working in this area?
More than government support or even funding, we need people to start questioning these fear campaigns around us. The media plays a big part in it, but we need people to stop being afraid of discussion. We live on this planet together, so it’s not helpful to make people be afraid of discussing things. Let them talk, let them choose.