Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Bringing a Ray of Hope to the Girls of Afghanistan

Empowering WomenAlmost six months ago, I published my first novel, An Invisible Woman in Afghanistan. I began working on the book in June of 2001 just before 9/11 and finally published on June 1 of this year. An-Invisible-Woman-in-Afghanistan-thumbnail

A lot of people have asked why I chose Afghanistan. There are many and varied reasons but the main one has always been that Afghanistan at the time was (and still is) one of the toughest places to be a woman or girl. I needed to put my character in the country and find out if she could do anything at all to help the women there because this series, although fiction, was always meant to focus on international women’s rights issues. (And if you want to know what she does and how that works out, you’ll have to read the book!)

While doing the research for the book and discovering the many and truly horrific adversities Afghan women have faced, I also found that there are equally extraordinary, strong, and powerful Afghan women fighting hard every day to bring their country out of its recent Dark Ages and back into the light.

One such woman is Razia Jan, Razias-Ray-of-Hope-imagean Afghan-born American woman who was profoundly moved to do something, anything, after 9/11. She began by organizing her American community to send blankets to rescue workers at ground Zero, then care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan, and then shoes to Afghan children. And then she got on a plane and went there. Right into a war zone. She hadn’t been back in over 30 years.

Razia wasn’t sure at first what to do to help but eventually it became clear: help to ensure that the girls in her homeland had the same educational opportunities as the boys. She founded Razia’s Ray of Hope to fund the Zabuli Education Center for girls which opened in March of 2008. The school now has 440 students, is increasing this number every year, and Razia has set a new target – building the first  women’s college in rural Afghanistan. The Razia Jan Technical College is scheduled to open in March of 2015.

Empowering women and girls in a country that just a few years ago seemed committed to their complete and total dis-empowerment is no small task. But Razia Jan and the founders of this school (including the male elders of the community who she enrolled in the project and who now support it 100%) believe that the education of all the children of Afghanistan is key to bringing positive peaceful change to their country.

Girls across the world are going to school as never before. I can’t help but think that this “Girls’ Revolution” will have some very profound, positive, and peaceful effects as they grow into women leaders in Afghanistan and beyond.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

P.S. For more information on Razia’s Ray of Hope, you can also watch this short video trailer of the upcoming film documentary, WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS (3 min trailer) from Principle Pictures on Vimeo.

Peace and Jobs

Have you ever thought that the real answer to war might just be decent jobs for those in conflict areas?

If you have (or you’ve had similar thoughts), then you’ll like bPeace, an organization dedicated to creating a million jobs in conflict areas, and active in Rwanda, Afghanistan, and El Salvador so far.

I have a special attachment to Afghanistan. I’ve written a novel set partly in Kabul, which I began just before 9/11. It’s pretty much done at this point (and I’m looking for an agent, publisher, etc…) but the country will always have a special place in my heart because of the extraordinary history, culture and people I’ve come to know. My book focuses on the very harsh conditions Afghan women are living under, but also on their resilience, resourcefulness, and fierce drive towards a better future for their children and their country. So bPeace‘s Afghan initiative, initially geared towards women but now also including men, spoke to me immediately.

bPeace pairs entrepreneurs from conflict areas with experienced business people in developed countries (and they are looking for skilled volunteers in certain areas to help “advocate” in developing these businesses if you’re interested). Here’s a small sample of some of the businesses bPeace has helped foster in Afghanistan (with the number of jobs created so far in parentheses):

  • Mobina is running two radio stations and received coaching from an Allentown, PA, journalist (28);
  • Maryam is teaching women to grow raisins (Afghanistan was once the world’s second-largest exporter!) and got a little help with packaging design from a New York graphic designer (10);
  • Nasima is working to revitalize the silk industry with new designs (the country lies along the famous Silk Road) and has partnered with a Connecticut importer to create an international market (49); and
  • Guljan’s chutney and tomato paste operation has received valuable pricing advice from a Bar Harbor, Maine, businesswoman (39).

Despite the constant barrage of negative press from all directions on this small central Asian country, bPeace is steadily showing one very effective way towards peace.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Peace in Surprising Places

I’ve been gradually updating my numbers in the New Year but noticed that my peace numbers (from the Global Peace Index page on Wikipedia) are all up to date (Iceland, New Zealand, and Japan lead the way, while Sudan, Iraq and Somalia hold the bottom posts) so I wanted to focus on something a little different.

I came across a TED talk yesterday, Why I chose a gun, given by Peter van Uhm, the Netherlands’ chief of defense. It’s a terrific talk and presents a fascinating and cogent explanation of how a strong national defense actually preserves peace.

But going even further, a really terrific example of people in uniform committed to and working towards peace is the non-profit organization, Spirit of America, which helps fund development projects initiated by U.S. military personnel overseas, with donations. These have included everything from procuring sewing machines for Afghan women in Kandahar to helping the Navy SEALS help a child with a life-threatening tumor get medical treatment.

Sometimes the people who we would least expect to be promoting peace are actually the ones who are the most passionate about it. I know lots of people will disagree with this but if you can put aside the media hype both ways and look a little deeper, what you find may surprise you.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Gauging Women’s Well-being

I checked on the indicator I’ve been using, Women’s Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%) this morning and found that the 2011 numbers had not yet been uploaded. As I’ve been updating these numbers for the New Year, I’ve also been looking at the indicators I’ve chosen. In the case of gauging women’s well-being, I would ultimately like to get the figures of how much of the wealth of any particular country is realistically controlled by the women of that country. (Though I don’t believe wealth alone is the perfect indicator of empowerment, it is about as close as I believe you can get.) That measure doesn’t exist yet so I will have to keep looking and, in the meantime, women’s participation levels in their governments will have to do.

But this exploration always brings up a difficult question. There are many women who do not believe they should have the rights and privileges as men. This came home to me after seeing an article on the “honor” deaths of four women in one family in Canada. The husband, second wife (the marriage was polygamous), and son felt completely justified in murdering the father’s three daughters and first wife, because the women were acting “dishonorably” in the frame of traditional tribal Islamic laws. (They were also from Afghanistan which possibly still has the most repressive laws in the world regarding women’s rights.)

But this is what they believe in with all their heart. Who are we to impose our belief systems on other countries?

Although the above example is a very stark example, there are millions of other less-defined examples that we, as a planet face. (Consider the current French debate on headscarves for one.)

Over 100 years ago, in colonial India, a British colonel, Charles James Napier, was confronted with this kind of situation, when Hindu priests complained to him about the British ban on “sati” or the traditional burning alive of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. His response, as recounted by his brother was:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

I find myself, though I truly wish to respect other cultures’ customs, siding with the Colonel’s sentiments in the majority of today’s instances of women’s rights violations. “Culture” is not an excuse.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. There aren’t too many examples on the planet today, but occasionally, the men need to have their rights respected by women. Balance, it’s all about balance!

Employment

Most of the time, we’re looking at figures for the title of this blog post with the added “un-” in front of it. Again, in keeping with my aim towards a world at 100%, I’m turning this number around to reflect a more positive stance towards getting to that 100%. (I’m using figures for unemployment again from the World Bank, and yes, I know, this is probably not the best way to get anything approaching accurate but until I figure something better out, this will have to suffice! As always, if you have an idea on how to do this, I would love to know.)

One commonality of the current worldwide economic turmoil of protests from the U.S. Occupy Wall Street to the streets of London, Cairo, even near Beijing, is dissatisfaction with working conditions, wages and/or availability of jobs. We seem to have a “Workers Revolution” on our hands despite the fact that Communism and Marxism pretty much went out of fashion in 1990.

A lot of this is actually not a protest about either jobs or unemployment, but really a massive popular outcry against corruption, both on a government and corporate level.

I do believe that we are making some headway against corruption worldwide, but I am also concerned that, with all the focus on whatever the quick fix of the moment for our economic and political problems is, we are missing something rather important.

That’s the simple fact that the world is changing in ways we can scarcely comprehend, and that the same old-same old economic modeling we have been cruising along with, will just not work.

The biggest problem we face is not that we don’t have jobs, it’s that we don’t have careers. Jobs can be performed by robots and more and more frequently, are. When people complain about how all the manufacturing jobs are going overseas, I am always baffled that they think we can “get them back” somehow. Those outsourced jobs are eventually — and I’m talking 10 – 20 years — going to be gone forever. You do not need to pay for health insurance for robots.

What we need to do as a world is re-tool for the next-gen evolution of work. Some countries are doing extraordinarily well at this, others not so much. In the end-up, though, I do believe that humans are remarkably adaptable and we will adjust to this new way of being. This is truly an exciting time — education will become more of a necessity than ever for moving ahead; people may work fewer hours and from home, but they will be doing more creative and mentally stimulating work; and with increased connectivity, we will be innovating and problem solving with new technologies that we can’t even imagine.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. I haven’t updated my numbers recently but this story showed up today on Afghanistan and a wonderful improvement in their maternal and infant mortality numbers. They’ve been on the bottom of the Wikipedia page on infant mortality so this just made my heart sing. (I also have a special place in my heart for this country but I won’t go into that now.) So updating the numbers with that special addition, we’re at: 58.6083241657513 (Up .010020000006 from my last update.)

PPS. Transparency International just updated their corruption index numbers for the year so I’m looking forward to updating those numbers soon too and keeping my fingers crossed that they’ve gotten better! (The TI numbers are the ones I use for my “Good Governance” indicator.) India apparently has not, though, according to this article. Although that’s not exactly a good thing, it does make me wonder if, with the recent drive on corruption, more people are aware of the problem, so the TI numbers may not mean actual corruption has increased just that people are more fed up with it. And that would be a great step in the right direction.