For many Afghan women, just leaving the house to go to market can be an uncomfortable, tense and even frightening experience. Men – either in groups or even alone – hiss, taunt, cajoles and harass them in all kinds of inappropriate manners.
The prevalence of street harassment throughout Afghanistan negatively impacts women’s confidence; limits their access to public spaces, impedes independence, forces them to travel less convenient routes, alters their routines, forces them to give up on hobbies, limits opportunities including education and jobs and some women choose to stay home because they can no longer face daily harassment.
For Fawzia Karimi* from Herat, a member of the USAID Promote Jawana program, street harassment she faced routinely almost motivated her to stop studying.
“After finishing school I was being escorted by my brother/father when I wanted to go out of my home because there were too many guys on the way to home and I could not take it more,” she said. “I was about to quit on my education until I joined Jawana class.”
USAID’s Promote Jawana program is helping young women like Fawzia. In order to combat street harassment, a group of eight Jawana graduates conducted an awareness session at public areas of Herat City. The goal was to educate the general public about the reasons why it is essential to stop street harassment and why it matters. The group also hired two actors and conducted a play at the Ferdaws Mall before a large audience. The dramatization was focused on a man harassing a girl who he realizes at the end, when he sees her without a burqa on, is his own sister. The Jawana graduates also hired an Islamic Scholar who talked about street harassment and what Islam says about it.
Many of the Jawana group members have been victims of daily street harassment and gender inequality. After participating in the Jawana class the group members discussed all of the reasons they felt that few women participate openly in society. Sara Kamal*, a Jawana Group member said, “I was always afraid and never complained about anything in my life but when I joined Jawana course I found that there are too many things which are my legal rights but never thought about it or had the courage to ask for it but now I can.”
The campaign was officially launched on January 24, 2016 in presence of high-ranking government officials, civil society activists, women’s rights activists, local and international media companies. It was highly received by government officials.
After the first round of awareness campaigns ended, the group began to focus on conducting a second awareness outreach campaign aimed at public and private universities. Sara believes that malls and universities are major areas where women face harassment.
More than 1500 people have benefited from the project but the group aims for more. The project will be implemented in public and private universities to acquaint the young generation and seek their support in stopping the street harassment.
Women’s Leadership Development is one of four programs under the five-year Promote umbrella. Promote aims to build on the gains Afghan women have made over the last decade by providing 18,000 educated women between18 and 30 from across the country with leadership skills to advance into decision-making positions in the political, economic and social sectors of Afghan society.
*Names changed for security reasons.