Profile of the Female Candidates through a Tour of Afghanistan:
Report of Workshops for Parliamentary and Provincial Council Elections

By Nasrine Gross
The Roqia Center for Women’s Rights, Studies and Education in Afghanistan
November 2005

1. General Comments
During the months before the parliamentary elections I was a member of a taskforce organized by UNAMA that looked into training specific to female candidates. When I found out what everyone else was offering I realized that what I had prepared and wanted to present covered an area that others did not, i.e., topics specific to the Afghan women’s social situation. We at the Roqia Center were fortunate to find a funder for our activity, the Embassy of Holland. We organized six workshops in six cities for female candidates to the parliamentary and provincial councils from 14 provinces. We got the names of all the candidates from the JEMB final lists and invited each and every one of them. This report is an account of these workshops.

We designed the workshops to have two parts, one the opening ceremony when guests could be with us, normally from 8 to 10 am. Here at the end of it we served tea and cookies to give the candidates a chance to talk with the guests. We invited the guests to come back for lunch (a really free lunch being a rarity among hungry Afghans, most of them did so).

The second and main part of activity was the workshop itself and that was only for the candidates. It normally went from 10 am to 4 pm.

For each opening ceremony, we invited speakers, mostly the governor and high officials as well as the clergy, women’s representatives, human rights representatives, and civil society. In each ceremony, we thanked the Embassy of the Netherlands for funding the workshops and USAID/SUNY for funding the Guide.

At each workshop, we had to find a discrete way of ensuring candidates’ security. Fortunately, everywhere, provincial security commanders were very cooperative and all went without any incidence.

At each workshop, we distributed to each attendee and guest a packet consisting of a file folder, a notebook, a pen, a copy of ‘Women’s Guide to Winning in the 2005 Elections’ and a copy of UNIFEM’s ‘Guide to Parliaments’. We had both of these documents in Dari and Pashto and asked people’s preference.

A majority of the candidates said they had not received any other training regarding elections or women’s issues. Very few said they had attended a workshop by NDI or JEMB or UNAMA.

A complaint that was aired unanimously in all the workshops was that the candidates did not know the criteria for winning. When we explained it to them as part of the workshop, they really became animated. They had no idea what the minimum number of votes for winning was – – either for women or for the men in their province. Nobody had told them that it was about getting votes! So, they were campaigning, meaning they were going to many many many places to talk but they did not know that it was really about making sure that they got the votes.

As a result of this tour, we learned a lot about Afghanistan and Afghan women. The anecdotes, the faces, the homes, the roads, the scenery, all told us a priceless story. When we returned to Kabul and heard the pundits, be it intellectuals, officials or media, talk about the elections or Afghanistan, we realized how much out of touch and out of reality many of these people were.

One of the most poignant stories was of a young candidate (to respect her privacy, no name, no province). She is now 26 years old. She was raped by a family friend when she was 7 years old. To save the family honor, her family found her an old suitor and married her off at the age of 8. During the intervening years she has managed to become literate. She now works outside the house and has several children and a very old husband who accompanies her everywhere. She wanted to become a member of the wolesi jirga to help pass legislation to protect girls in her situation.

And yet, along our travels, on every road, in every corner of these provinces, we encountered women busy at work in the fields, at the streams, in melon sheds, in bazaar days, and elsewhere. So, let no one tell me Afghan women are homebound or Afghan men are not used to seeing women work outside the home!

Something that impressed us everywhere was the political sense of the people, men and women. No matter how illiterate, how poor, how backward, how traditional, or how aware of their own communities, these Afghans seemed to know what was going on with the country and what needed to be done. It was heartening to hear them talk about Afghanistan and/or the future. As part of this, one request we received in every town was to return, to bring more programs, especially people insisted on literacy programs and simple money making projects or informational workshops.

One final observation: there seems to be a total lack of electricity throughout all these provinces. In some of the cities proper, there was a little electricity. But in the countryside, none whatsoever! Driving through towns, villages and rural areas in pitch-black nights, we kept thinking of the amount of productive time that is lost in every home every night – – no wonder Afghanistan is one of the most backward countries. And of the insecurity, vulnerability, indeed the paranoia that darkness creates, we could not but conclude that every night we lose Afghanistan all over again!

2. Description of Each Workshop

2.1 Mahmud Raqi
This included provinces of Parwan, Kapissa and Panjsher. The workshop was to be held in Charikar, center of Parwan. However, we could not find enough guesthouses there for the candidates to spend the night in. We decided to hold it instead in Mahmud Raqi, center of Kapissa. From a total of 33 candidates, 18 attended the workshop (mostly because on the same day there was the celebration of Afghanistan’s independence day in Gulbahar and the governor had requested that half of the candidates come to our event and half to his celebration. The governor is tops in marketing his province; it was his insistence that got us there in the first place).

The governor and his top-level team of directors of education, women’s affairs, information and culture, etc. along with the head of the clergy council of the province attended the workshop. The governor and the head of the clergy council gave speeches. As well the head of the women’s affairs of Parwan participated. There were also guests from among influential and famous women of Kapissa province.

We also had several journalists. One of them asked to interview each candidate because he said the journalists did not have the opportunity and time to go find each candidate and now that they are all in one place it is a great moment for the press.

We found the candidates to be mostly educated with a number of them university and/or teacher’s college graduates. A number of them were long time teachers of girls’ high schools. A majority of them were very aware of the needs of women, the issues involved, and the requirement of progress and reconstruction in the country.

Their major complaint was that their rivals (other male and female candidates) were tearing their posters and creating gossip about them.

They talked about how useful the workshop was. They indicated that they would use some of the workshop’s pointers as soon as they got back home. In the workshop, they were especially impressed with fundraising meetings, the election kit and the unforgettable souvenir.

Mahmud Raqi itself is an interesting town. It is situated on a high, dusty and treeless plateau void of living quarters but with only a few new government buildings. It has very little traffic or people except for the employees of the buildings. It has a strip of newly built shops that are being used as offices. The real market is some ways away. This plateau is encircled in a lower bank by local homes and fields and orchards. It needs more attention to make it a hub of community activity as well.

2.2 Bamyan
Originally this workshop was supposed to cover two provinces of Bamyan and Ghor. However, due to the late start the Ghor candidates could not reach Bamyan in time for the workshop as it takes two days and one night to reach Bamyan (from Ghor) and we also found out that the cost of transporting them was extremely high. There were no cars to be had in Ghor and so to bring candidates from there, we had to rent cars from Bamyan, which meant paying twice for the car and driver (going to Ghor, bringing candidates to Bamyan, taking candidates back to Ghor and returning back to Bamyan). We were therefore forced to hold separate workshops in each province rather than one for both. The total number of candidates in Bamyan is 16 and eleven attended the workshop.

We rented the hall of the chief financial office of the province (the only one of its size) for the seminar and its adjoining dining room. But we had to work very hard and fast as the hall had been ready for painting and all its furniture was removed and paint stuff was all over. We also had to scrounge around for people that had microphone and loudspeakers as well as technicians.

The candidates came from very far and hard-reaching places. One candidate came from Kahmard district that is serviced by only one car per week. So she took her husband and two of the youngest of her six children and came four days before the workshop so as not to miss it. Three candidates sent representatives, women that worked in their campaigns. A couple were in Kabul and another had a campaign engagement too far from the city to make it to the workshop.

The governor was away but our guests included many officials of the province, the representative of the Independent Commission of Human Rights, several women from the Directorate of Women’s Affairs, and several guests from Kabul from GTZ and Rights and Democracy. We also had several journalists that came to film and interview the workshop and the candidates.

During the final parts of the opening ceremony, over tea and cookies, and then again later, over lunch, the candidates had an opportunity to talk about some of their concerns with the officials such as the security commander and chief financial officer. They were talking about the long distances and how they could bring their voters to the voting booths.

At the end of the workshop, the attendees seemed to be very happy about the issues discussed in the workshop. They liked the parts about the articles of the constitution, the kit and fundraising tips. Many said we were the first non-official group of women to visit the province. Many also asked us to come back and think about projects we could have in Bamyan.

We found Bamyan itself to be a place of extremes. It is full of history and antiquities such as the Buddhas, the city of Gholghola, the city of Zohak (a little outside the city), and other such places. But these places as tourist spots have not been developed. Also, in terms of reconstruction (or construction for the first time), it is a very neglected area. The roads were pretty bad, the buildings still half-destroyed, the shopping center (actually a decimated strip) very poor, utterly void of local products (the exception being qurut, a kind of dried cream cheese used for sauces all over the country), cuisine has suffered a lot and the people looked mal-nourished and acted very uncertain and timidly. There were signs of foreign NGO’s but their work, with the exception of one school, did not show. We found many people including the candidates and guests not to be literate. They did however seem to be ready for a lot of modernization. Fortunately, the new governor, Habiba Sarabi, the first female governor is very active and has lots of plans and hopefully can alleviate some of this.

We also heard a lot about tensions between the Tajik Kahmard and Saighan districts and the rest of Bamyan that is Shia/Hazara. The Tajiks complained bitterly about their situation, especially about not being able to return to their homes.

We rented cars to drive back to Kabul and en route we encountered, for the first time in all my travels, a beautiful couple having a happy picnic next to a stream in plain view! All along the road we saw posters of all the candidates including female ones. But later, when we got to Wardak, we noticed that posters became only of men. What a difference!

The road to Kabul was very dangerous but passable. However what was very interesting was the lushness of the Bamyan valley for miles upon miles and evidence of so many historic sites. Among them, the City of Zohak was breathtaking – – intricately built out of rock on the highest point of sheer rock that looked bright reddish-purple in the morning sun. Its walls, turrets, towers and buildings looked almost intact. How wonderful it would be to make these – – and other – – historic areas of Afghanistan a tourist mecca!

2.3 Kabul
This workshop consisted of candidates from Ghazni, Wardak and Daikundi. The cities of Maidanshahr and Nili do not have accommodations, and because of the security situation in the city of Ghazni, the workshop was held in Kabul.

We had to work on the double to get the Kabul workshop ready, as it was our biggest exposure to the toughest critics. We invited all the foreign journalists and Afghan print, radio and television media. Many of them came including the BBC, VOA, Reuters, Tolo, Bakhtar, etc.

We invited a number of our non-Afghan friends: The funder of these workshops, H. E. Ambassador de la Bey of the Netherlands, Mr. Eric Kite, Director of Democracy and Governance of USAID, Mr. Jawad Risheq, Country Director for SUNY (State University of New York Center for International Development) that funded the preparation and publication of ‘Women’s Guide to Winning in 2005 Elections’, Mr. Babak Khalatbary, Country Director for Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and others. Ambassador de la Bey gave a great speech relating the experience of women of Holland to Afghan women and democracy.

As well we invited the heads of several political groups active in the three provinces: Mr. Daifoladi, former culture minister-councilor and a well-known Hazara writer, Mr. Hussaini, the current minister-councilor for Shia affairs, Mrs. Zara, the Deputy Chairwoman of the National Understanding Front, a representative of Mr. Kazimi, and others. Mrs. Said Bibi Naqi, the first girl graduate of a high school in Afghanistan, now in her 80’s gave the Koran recitation.

Also, a representative of the EU International Observers Mission, and a representative of UNAMA came to give informational talks. The observer talked very well; the UNAMA person had a translator that did not grasp the sensitivity of the situation. We had to intervene to make sure that there was no misunderstanding.

Also a couple of candidates from Nuristan and Paktika who had heard about the workshop showed up.

The invited candidates came in droves. Only a few who had scheduled campaign activities did not show up. The drive from Ghazni and Wardak seemed to be ok. But those who came from Daikundi actually spent three days and two nights from their districts to get to Kabul. We were very thankful that they made the effort, especially those that spent a total of 6 days and 5 nights for the round trip journey.

The candidates in general were well educated and aware, among them were some medical doctors and a few that had traveled abroad or were returning refugees from Pakistan and Iran. Still there were a number that were illiterate. One of them from Wardak came with her large veil covering her face the entire time.

They all had a great time talking to the guests at the tea and cookies time. Most of their complaints were centered around financing a campaign. Many also seemed to be campaigning for funding for their own organizations.

The candidates received the content of the workshop with a lot of interest and many questions. Some of them thought that what we were suggesting about customs and traditions that affect women negatively was actually undoable during the campaign. A medical doctor from Wardak said if she mentioned in her speeches that men should treat their wives with respect and not beat them, most of the men attending their sessions would not vote for them and would tell their wives not to vote either. This led to a discussion of a candidate’s convictions versus how diplomatic she needed to be with potential constituencies and what it might mean if she lies about her convictions.

The candidates also were very skeptical of fundraising gatherings and were saying that actually the government should have put some money aside for the campaigns.

There seemed to be a lot of competition among candidates of each province. However, several candidates commented on how much they learned through getting to know candidates from other provinces. The candidates were very eager to talk to the press.

2.4 Kunduz This workshop consisted of candidates from Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan provinces. It was held in Kunduz City.

We flew to Kunduz early in the morning. We arrived at the Kunduz Hotel and were really surprised to find it cleaner and more accommodating than the Intercontinental in Kabul!

As is the custom in all provinces of Afghanistan, we first visited the governor, Engineer Omar who received us with a lot of interest. He also promised to make special arrangements for the security of the candidates.

That evening before the workshop a surprising and wonderful event happened to us: One of the candidates, Mrs. Zarghouna Stanikzay gave birth to a baby boy, her ninth child. This candidate from the Afghan Millat party, whose candidacy card is of a head and face fully covered in burqa and has not gone to school, was a candidate from one of the far villages of Dahne Ghouri district in Baghlan. She and her husband had to walk several hours to the nearest car road to find a car and drove several hours to come to Kunduz.

When she went into labor at around 11 pm, we had to work hard to find a hospital, take her there and then work very hard (even knock on doors) to find some sheets and coverings for her and her baby. This was her first baby born in a hospital.

At six the next morning her husband called me from the hospital to say that he was taking his wife and newborn baby back home. He would not accept my suggestion to keep his wife in the hospital for one more day. I asked him to stop by the hotel, where we gave them a hearty breakfast and a token fund to go home. She was beaming and said she had named the baby ‘Abdul Wakil’, Mr. Deputy in English! (I asked her what if he became the president?!)

This event underscored the situation of Afghan women to me and I subsequently used it as an example in every workshop. I was very worried how this woman would walk several hours with a newborn in her arm to get home. Why she had walked the long wilderness to come to the workshop? What if she had gone into labor during her walk in the middle of nowhere? What would have happened to the baby? How come she had not anticipated the event to come a little prepared? How come the husband was not more concerned (even at breakfast, he pulled the large plate to himself without regard for his wife until I reminded him that his wife also needed to replenish her energy)? Who cared for the other eight children left behind? And what would she do if she is elected?

In the workshop, we had many important guests in the opening ceremony. The governor and all the directors of the government, the Security Chief, the head of the council of clergy (Shura-ye Ulema), the representatives of UNAMA and JEMB, AIHRC and the ministry of Women’s Affairs, heads of NGO’s and others. We had very good speeches from the governor and head of the council of clergy. Most of them returned for lunch as well.

The candidates raised their concerns with the officials regarding their posters being torn by other candidates including male candidates, security situation in remote areas, being able to use mosques and schools as places where campaign gatherings can take place, etc. The governor promised to talk to officials and mullahs to allow these events.

As well, the representatives of MOWA, AIHRC and UNAMA/JEMB gave informational talks. We distributed an invitation letter from the MOWA to the candidates. The UNAMA/JEMB talk from one non-Afghan woman and a male Afghan was utterly disorganized. On the stage, they could not make up their mind what to say to the candidates and were discussing the points between themselves.

During the workshop, the candidates were very vocal with their questions regarding the content of the workshop. They went wild over the idea of fundraising gatherings and election kit. They said they would try them the very next day when they got home. Many of them also invited us to come back and gave more workshops of this quality. One of the candidates said she obtained more than thirty years of learning in this one day. At the end of the workshop several candidates mentioned how happy they were that they had decided to leave the campaign and come to the workshop.

We found most of the candidates very well educated. They were very well aware of requirements of reconstruction and modernization in the country. They talked about the problems of their area with a lot of thought. They mentioned girls’ education, illiteracy among adults, lack of clinics, lack of hygiene education, lack of support for women with productive skills such as rug making, patriarchy, and other problems. However, there were a few very glaring examples of no literacy and no experience in an office. Also, there were two 25 years olds and one candidate that was 19 for the provincial council. She complained that most people do not give her any respect, do not listen to her!

We actually found the candidates to have a lot of hope and anticipation. They looked healthy, rather well off, well fed, a lot of laughter among them and seemed to be enjoying life after so many years of Taliban wars.

As for Kunduz, we found it a delight to be in. One of the few areas of Afghanistan where you can actually find local products and produce galore. We visited the shopping district with its large paved streets, shops full of diverse commodities, and areas allotted especially to local products, such as kilims, rugs, pottery, fantastic riding gear for both the horse and rider, all handmade in the area. Also, there were shops with fashionable clothes imported from abroad, which indicated a large middle class. We also tasted the most delicious melon ever! Yum…

The surrounding area is lush and green with much agriculture. As well there was a lot of electricity and running, drinking water, not to mention hospitals, one of which we experienced first hand with the baby. In short Kunduz seemed a hub of activity and hope, well on its way to modernizing and developing.

We left Kunduz by car to go to the next workshop site, Sheberghan.

2.5 Sheberghan
This workshop consisted of three provinces of Jowzjan, Faryab and Sari Pul. Due to availability of accommodation, it was held in Sheberghan, center of Jowzjan.

The road from Kunduz to Puli-Khomri is now reconstructed and is beautiful. Along it, we encountered a rare means of transportation, a boat, carrying to the other side of the river, the most common means of transportation in Afghanistan, a donkey! We also met a dashing young man on a motorcycle transporting his wife and two children! From Puli-Khomri to Mazar-I Sharif the road was good. However, what really caught the eye were miles upon miles of perfectly flat and seemingly arable land that laid in waste all along much of the road.

When we got to Mazar it was dusk and a phone call to Kabul said we should not travel to Sheberghan during the night! Oh, we thought otherwise and pushed on and got to Sheberghan late in the evening, without a hitch!

Once in Sheberghan, we had much to do to organize the workshop. Since leaving Kabul several days ago, we had lost telephone contact with Sari-Pul and Faryab. So first order of business was to make sure the candidates from these places would come to the workshop. It was very difficult. For Faryab we finally managed to contact them and they showed some concern over their security coming from Maimana to Sheberghan. We contacted the Jowzjan Chief of Security who graciously promised to alert his men from the border of Faryab to Sheberghan and also on the candidates’ return trip. He also asked his counterpart in Maimana to do the same for the Faryab side.

As for Sari-Pul, again thanks to the two security chiefs, we were able to contact the candidates, but it was impossible to let all the Sari-Pul candidates know about the departure time from Sari-Pul. So we had only a few of the Sari-Pul candidates in the workshop.

Our next big task was finding a suitable venue for the workshop and lunch as well as accommodation for all the candidates.

The day before the workshop we also had a big gathering of important women of Jowzjan that came to visit us. We learned a lot about the situation of women in the province from them. Also, we visited the orphanage of Sheberghan and talked with the orphans, boys and girls.

For the workshop day, the governor, the security chief and all of the officials of Jowzjan attended the event. As well representatives from Faryab and Sari-Pul came. Many representatives of the non-Afghan community also came. Of note was the delegation of the Election’s Asian Observers.

During tea and lunch, the candidates were able to talk about their problems with the officials. Some from Faryab were concerned about security. Others were thinking of procedures for counting the vote. Some were concerned about what their rivals were doing to their posters and their reputation.

All the candidates expressed thanks for our showing up in their forgotten city. As well they wished we had held the workshop much earlier and that they wanted us to come again with similar projects. Many candidates from Faryab and Sari-Pul invited us to visit their towns and provinces. It was great to hear so many people speak a language I did not understand – – Uzbeki! Ah the beautiful diversity of Afghanistan!!!

We found Sheberghan also an interesting city. There was very delicious food, which means people have had resources to cook and not forget the cuisine. At the same time, the town looks very much that it once had a very advanced – – for Afghanistan – – situation: The streets are very wide, in each crossroad, there is a tall monument and there are many shops. We saw some of the most beautiful rugs and carpets. They have a bazaar day when women (and men) from outlying villages bring their handicraft; a lot of kilims and rugs and chapans and jaylaks (the long overcoat that President Karzai wears).

But Sheberghan also shows that not much attention has been given to it in the last four years. The women’s directorate has not been built, the roads have not been paid attention to. People do not look very prosperous. The hotels are not well run or clean. People look uncertain. And new comers are a real event for them.

We left Sheberghan for Mazar during the daytime. And wow the scenery was fantastic. For one thing, all these villages with one-story domed buildings, the traditional form of construction in that part of the country. With the sun shining on them, they looked stunning, and very sensuous! I hope somebody is studying this type of architecture and is trying to find ways of continuing it. I saw some new buildings next to some of them and the contrast was stark. I kept thinking this architecture carries with it a way of life, traditions, mores and values… Who is looking after keeping this authentic piece of what is Afghan culture?

And then too, the natural scenery on the two sides of the road, flatland up to a far away horizon. Such huge vistas of earth and sky, I could not distinguish between where land ended and the sky began. Most of the land seemed arable – – but of course no one is planting anything; only thistle is having a feast reseeding. With all these lands lying in waiting I am now convinced that with just a little attention Afghanistan could easily become self sufficient in food (and even have surplus for export) – – very quickly.

And all the way to Mazar, on the right side of the road we were accompanied by the gas pipeline, now not so much in use, as the gas wells are soiled and no maintenance has been kept. Every now and then we came upon kids play-walking on it or herds of sheep obliviously resting in its shadow.

Near Mazar we saw the ancient wall of Balkh, several parts of it laid in utter ruin and disregard. This 3500 year-old wall that is several meters wide, has in places been dug in to create large dry grottos for herds and kuchis and other wayfarers! Who is thinking of keeping this witness to history for our children? Perhaps, in Afghanistan we do not have a culture of keeping! Or perhaps we have a different definition of history!

As we got closer to Mazar the air reeked of the smell of chars (marijuana?) and all along the side of the road we now could see it growing. In fact all over our trip we saw clusters of young men, especially at dusk cloistered together smoking pot! Seeing the vulnerability of the places we visited I am worried about the upcoming generation. How could I reach them to tell them, no, this is not the way to nirvana?

In Mazar we ran into a group of female gypsies, speaking a language we did not understand, maybe Gujar, telling people’s fortune and jesting with all passersby. We spent the night in that bustling and oh so spiritual a city.

2.6 Cheghcheran
We used some of the funds leftover from Bamyan and other workshops to hold the workshop in Cheghcheran, center of Ghor. There were 14 candidates and 10 of them attended the workshop.

We chartered a flight to take us there. Cheghcheran airport does not have taxis or for that matter many humans. We had to walk some ways up the road to find a car and then coax the driver into taking us into town. We went straight to the governor’s office. He was in a monthly meeting of all his officials and all the NGO’s operating in Ghor. So he asked us to join. We immediately learned a lot about what was going on in Ghor. For example, one group of farmers had come to complain: they stopped cultivating poppy this past spring because FAO was giving them wheat to plant instead. However, the wheat that they received was of the eating kind not of the planting kind, which cannot be distinguished. So, nothing grew. Now they have lost their income from the poppy and they have not had a crop of wheat. Who is going to give them the replacement for their income. The governor was at a loss for words. Another NGO reported that they were building an airport in a far district of Ghor and the work is one third of the way done. The governor was stunned that he is the man in charge and this is the first he has heard of such an important project. (The governor proved an unusual Afghan high official: his wife also works outside the house and attends all official functions!)

We went about organizing the workshop. It was a major undertaking but with help from several quarters we managed to have the auditorium of the Sultan Alauddin Ghori High School. And oh did we have to clean and prepare it!

We invited the governor and all his high ranking officials, the council of the clergy, the pilgrimage and religious endowments, as well as the PRT, the American contingent, the UNAMA/JEMB representatives and civil society and journalists. We also invited the wives of officials. As well many women working in the women’s center came. These last ones seemed to be the most conservative group and unfortunately came in with their burqas on and they would not show their faces to the other attendees. We were surprised because the women’s center is supposed to be the place that role models to other women how to be part of society and how to behave in social functions!

Most of the candidates came even though those living in town were actually out of town campaigning. Two of them lived in Herat and did not make the long journey. One candidate was 25 years old, was born and raised in Iran, had just returned, lived in Kabul with her family and had moved to Ghor for the last three months.

Many of the candidates were educated and a large number was also with very little education. They were a very interesting group. One of them who is 31 years old said she was engaged when she was ten, married at eleven, went to school until sixth grade, now has six children and works as a health worker in the women’s center. She said she wanted to become a member of the provincial council so she can work to prevent other girls having her fate.

The candidates enjoyed the workshop as did many of the guests – men and women – that insisted to stay for the workshop as these events are a total rarity in Ghor. The candidates did complain that we came to their province very late in the campaign.

They did not have many complaints about the elections. But they also said we were the very first non-governmental female organization to come to Ghor. They were very appreciative and asked that we come again with more projects.

We also felt that Ghor was absolutely the most backward place we had visited in Afghanistan. Scant development, poverty, pitiful shopping district with many shops empty, poor nutrition. Most people eat only bread, rice and meat. They do not know how to cultivate legumes and vegetables. The governor has planted a patch of onions in his yard (open to the public) to encourage the population to use the water from the river that runs through the city to plant small plots. Even the hotel and other food serving facilities did not understand the meaning of breakfast; they did not know how to cook eggs!

While we were there a historic event happened: For the first time in the history of Ghor a phone system was installed in 25 provincial offices of Cheghcheran! You should have seen the joy in officials’ faces. Until then, the only communication with Ghor was via a satellite system with one line, which was down most of the time.

We also had discussions with some of the civil society people. They want to find ways to break the cycle of stagnation and apathy in their community. While we had no funds to give them we did share with them some ideas. Such as, talking to the PRT about setting up a Friday Ghor-products fair on the PRT ground for all the non-Afghans there. Or, talking to the FAO to get a few of their chicken and eggs projects around Ghor (We heard of this project in Kunduz and how successful that has been for generating work and income for women). Or, developing a women’s apparel only shop in Cheghcheran. Or, given the history of Ghor and given the fact that Ghor in spite of non-development has a rather large literati group, to find funding for a Ghor day in the auditorium, or for writing articles in a newsletter or producing a video of Ghor’s many sites.

I must admit that the lack of development and any conveniences of life in Ghor really got to us. So much so, that when we landed in Kabul airport, the paltry shops near the airport seemed to us like Harrod’s Food Gallery in London!

But finally the workshops were done. What remained and became more and more real was the anticipation of the elections that would set the course of Afghanistan for the next four years! And the memory of these fantastic, courageous, beautiful women! How many of them will change the course of future history? What vision of my beloved country will they develop? How many of them will act democratically? How many of them will be leaders, how many good team players, how many good negotiators? So many questions, so many hopes.

But for the moment, ah at last my own shantytown bed and bathroom – – at least until the next project!

For more information contact: Nasrine Gross
The Roqia Center for Women’s Rights, Studies and Education in Afghanistan
Central Post Office, POBox 1292, Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel in Kabul: 0700281694, Tel in the USA: 703-536-6471
Email:, Website:

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