Women for Afghan Women: An Urgent Mission for a Humanitarian Crisis
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As soon as the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan over the summer of 2021, it began institutionalizing “large-scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.” The acute humanitarian crisis surrounding the Taliban takeover has calcified into a society once again segregated by gender and where opportunities for women across education, career, and public life are greatly limited. But there are organizations continuing the necessary work of protecting the rights of Afghan women and girls in need around the world.
One of those organizations is Women for Afghan Women (WAW). Established in 2001, WAW was created to advocate for Afghan women in all areas of life, help them gain economic, social and political autonomy, and reduce gender-based violence and discrimination.
WAW has centers in both the U.S. and in Afghanistan. WAW’s U.S. Country Director Naheed Samadi Bahram explains that, prior to the Taliban takeover, the organization “had 32 centers and programs that reached all 34 provinces in Afghanistan.” Operations have been limited since the takeover, but WAW have been “able to keep 100% of our staff and clients in Afghanistan safe and alive.”
Women for Afghan Women is only one of two Afghan-led organizations in the U.S. that can provide direct social services to Afghans arriving in America.
The overall vision of WAW, Samadi Bahram explains, is still “a world in which Afghan women and girls enjoy peace, justice, equality and the freedoms to participate in all spheres of life and live without fear.”
The organization’s mission continues in Afghanistan, helping support internally displaced people and children through its Children’s Support Centers. Need has greatly increased in the U.S. as well. WAW is only one of two Afghan-led organizations in the U.S. that can provide direct social services to the tens of thousands of Afghans who have arrived in America. Donor contributions made to WAW by way of donor-advised funds (DAFs) or other means go directly to their refugee resettlement programs in the U.S.
The need for these programs is more urgent than ever, Samadi Bahram says, noting that WAW has seen a 300% increase in requests for services in the U.S. after NATO troop withdrawal and the fall of the Afghan government in 2021. “Donations help WAW quickly respond to critical cases and ensure that refugee and evacuee women, children and families receive immediate support to rebuild their lives.”
These programs and services include the work done at their New York Community Center (NYCC), which meets the needs of underserved populations through direct services, as well as multilingual adult empowerment programming, including citizenship classes, senior support, driving test preparation and more. WAW’s approach, Samadi Bahram says, “is to address clients’ immediate and basic needs to get them out of a survivalist mindset and to a place where they are self-sufficient and thriving.”
WAW’s NYCC is led by Afghan and immigrant women who have the first-hand knowledge and experience of the community and an understanding of Afghan culture, society and history. Samadi Bahram explains the strengths of WAW’s U.S.-based staff: “With their background and expertise, the NYCC team provides culturally sensitive and linguistically competent side-by-side services that support individuals and families until they are able to stand on their own.”
The tight-knit community cultivated at the WAW NYCC kept their doors open, virtually, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. WAW, like so many other organizations, transitioned to remote programming, which required staff to help participants who had difficulty using technology. In 2020 alone, Samadi Bahram reports that WAW also provided essential services (such as food, healthcare and shelter) for over 1,100 individuals and families who were impacted by the effects of the pandemic.
No matter what kind of crisis it faces, WAW does what it has always set out to do, Samadi Bahram says, acting as “a lifeline for the immigrant and refugee communities it serves.”
Aly Semigran is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She has been writing and editing professionally for over 15 years, with articles in Billboard, Well + Good and Mic, among many other notable publications. In addition to her editorial background, Aly is currently getting her Masters of Social Work degree from Temple University. She resides in Philadelphia with her dog.
NPT is not affiliated with any of the organizations described herein, and the inclusion of any organization in this material should not be considered an endorsement by NPT of such organization, or its services or products.
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