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18 May 2016

“Women’s rights are part of peace. They simply belong together”, says Vida Faizi, Medica Afghanistan

In April, four staff members from Medica Afghanistan had the opportunity to visit the head office of medica mondiale in Cologne. They met colleagues from the communication department to share firsthand knowledge about their work as an independent non-governmental organisation, becoming activists for women’s rights, and the special nature of working in Mazar-e-Sharif.

We talked to Humaira Rasuli, Director of Medica Afghanistan, her Deputy Director Saifora Ibrahim Paktiss, Helai Sohak, Office Director in Mazar-e-Sharif, and Vida Faizi, Head of the Psychosocial Counselling Department.

In 2010 Medica Afghanistan became an independent organisation. What impacts has this step had on your work?

Humaira Rasuli: “Generally we are very proud to be an independent organisation. We are recognized as a national NGO, which has important legal consequences for work in the country. At the same time, there are some aspects which are not easy. Neither the interdisciplinary and integrated work approach of medica mondiale and Medica Afghanistan nor the trauma-sensitive approach are very familiar to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Justice or the Ministry of Interior. So the concepts behind our work are not very well known, which poses a significant challenge. We are proud to have medica mondiale backing us up with their support. We are trying to develop our country, increasing our professionalism. This needs a lot of patience, a lot of persistence, a lot of learning. But I can see changes which have taken place since we became a national organisation. Although we still need some support during this transition period at the levels of operations and strategic planning, our team is competent and functioning well, and we have a strong commitment and courage. Currently we have three programmes: legal aid, psychosocial health and advocacy. We also do a lot of capacity building in our health and legal sections. We practice the interdisciplinary approach by offering direct social counselling and simultaneously carrying out advocacy work at both the political and community levels. This has a meaningful impact. Through this approach we have been able to address gender-based violence and especially sexualized gender-based violence in a very efficient way.”

Saifora, what is your role at Medica Afghanistan? How does a young woman become deputy director of a women’s rights organisation?

Saifora Ibrahim Paktiss: “I do not think I’m very young, because if you realise that life expectancy for Afghans is around 50-60 years, I’m actually an old woman at over thirty. Yes, I think becoming deputy director for an organisation like Medica Afghanistan is really a tough job. The good thing is I have had a background experience in many sectors, including government, local non-governmental organisations, donors, funding organisations, and embassies. So those all came together, along with the educational background I have. However, this doesn’t mean that I could just sit back and relax after being appointed deputy director: there is always room for improvement. So it’s really not easy, but it’s a fantastic job, too. My task is to oversee the programme area, pertaining to the background experience I have, whether this is the donor liaison, concept development, or reporting and supervision for programmes in all locations where Medica Afghanistan is present.”

Vida, during your work, you and your colleagues hear a lot of stories of violence, discrimination and fear. Would you say that Afghan women still have enough hope to fight for their rights?

Vida Faizi: “Based on my experience, working with women for a very long time, being together with women very closely and learning from them, above all it is peace they are longing for. Women’s rights are part of peace. They simply belong together. There can be no sustainable peace with gender-based violence or discrimination. But some women hope that suffering will end with peace. They say, ‘If there was peace in our country then we would have a very good economic situation, our husbands would be very content, and then they would treat us very well because they earn money for the family’ and so on. However, if they look deep into their hearts, they know that this isn’t true. Only if every human being is respected, men as well as women, and if laws against violence are observed, only then does sustainable peace have a chance.”

Helai Sohak, you are Office Director in Mazar-e-Sharif. What special circumstances do you face there compared to Kabul or Herat?

Helai Sohak:The situation of women in the Mazar-e-Sharif region is different from Kabul. Most of the people in remote areas and villages follow the old culture and customs. Most of the time they prefer to solve their family cases through tribal mediation because they don’t believe in the state system. Tribal mediation (Jirga) is mostly in the hands of men, so men prefer to solve their cases this way. Furthermore, they don’t allow women and girls to solve their problems through official prosecutors and the judicial system. This would be the better option for women and girls as victims or survivors of violence. On the other hand, women aren’t actually very optimistic about the judicial system, since there is a lack of awareness of the issues of discrimination and sexualised violence, corruption, and the patriarchal system in Afghanistan. So women often come to the conclusion that any decision, whether taken at tribal mediation or in court, will benefit the opposing side. Female activists in civil society are trying to bring about some positive changes regarding the position of women in society. They are working together and they have some advocacy contact points where they do awareness raising. Medica Afghanistan also works on awareness-raising regarding the rights of women, especially the implementation of the EVAW Law (Elimination of Violence Against Women), gender equality and family law. We have been successful in building trust between judicial departments, the population in general, and non-governmental female activists. Furthermore, we have had some live media programmes, for example radio broadcasts and round-table sessions on TV on special days such as International Women’s Day, World Youth Day and so on. Fortunately these efforts brought very positive changes in the status of women. With each passing day, women are becoming better informed about their rights. They have been able to defend their rights and can be referred to women activists, NGOs and justice organisations. Now we are seeing a lot of counselling and legal aid cases from rural districts and other provinces. As a women’s organisation we are trying to provide comprehensive services for all women. Our vision is that in the future, no girl or woman suffers from domestic violence, old customs or patriarchal structures anymore.