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My name is Mary Akrami, resident of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. I passed the 12th grade from Malalay, a girl's high school in Kabul, and got my BBA degree in Administration and Economy from Peshawar Pakistan during exile. When I came into senses I observed the foreign invaders around without knowing the actors and factors behind it turmoil. I have never felt security throughout my entire life experience. I have witnessed thousands of rockets being fired twenty four hours a day in the city of Kabul. These killings became a daily routine in Kabul; therefore, the people had to get used to dealing with this turmoil. However, with the invasion of the Taliban, the human suffering became too severe and many people were forced to leave the country and seek refuge in neighboring countries. My family also left Afghanistan and sought refuge in Pakistan forcing me to leave all of my childhood memories in a destroyed, sweet homeland.

During that time, there was no source of livelihood for us and we were dependent upon the remittances sent by our relatives abroad. At the time of exile, I noticed that there were no earning opportunities for Afghanis and in particular for women; this got me to think about what could be done to help Afghani women who are suffering from these difficulties. I was trying to think of ways for women to overcome these issues, when one day while sitting with a few friends we came to the conclusion that we must do something collectively as a group. After that, we decided to explore opportunities for learning English and computer literacy; we then contacted some Pakistani organizations about supporting our efforts. We then extended our efforts to refugee camps and started literacy classes for Afghani women on a self-help basis. In addition to these activities we focused on raising awareness through political education workshops and seminars. We would not be able to conduct these if it were not for the support of the Aurat Foundation (A Pakistani NGO) and the Afghan Women Skills Development Center (AWSDC).

During the fall of 2001, I got the opportunity to attend the Afghan Civil Society meeting held in Bonn Germany where the destiny of Afghani women and people in general were discussed.

When we came back to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime we built on our existing work. The lack of participation of women in economic development was thought to be one of the main areas of underdevelopment for women. Therefore, we started a small project of micro enterprise development for women in the small village of Ghazni and as result, 65 women benefited and are still benefiting even after AWSDC withdrawal.

In keeping with the growing ratio of violence against women and the lack of any facility to protect victims of violence, a shelter was established in April 2003 with the support of Norwegian church Aid (NCA). It is the first shelter of its kind and includes many types of help: psychological, legal, education and skill development for the victims in the shelter. Since the establishment of the shelter, 309 women and girls have sought refuge there and currently we have 22 beneficiaries with the rest of the women and girls having gone back after finding a solution to their situations. One story that I would like to share is that of a 14 year old girl who stayed in the shelter for 50 days; however, the very first night she went back to her home her parents killed her. I considered this to be a great sorrow in my life and in order to pay tribute to her innocent life and the sacrifices that she made, I wrote the sad story of her murder and it is now available as a movie under the name of "Last Night Last Verse." This is not just the story of the 14 year old girl, but also a story of all the women suffering in our society.
In order to address Women's Human Rights in a sustainable way, we not only protect the victims of violence by providing shelter with psychological counseling, legal aid and self development opportunities, but also focus on involving all of the stakeholders for the prevention of Women Human Rights. The focus of AWSDC is to protect and prevent, but we are still aware of the prevailing situation regarding peace and in order to contribute towards peace we run a peace building program in the Parwan province. Under this program we have established 12 peace committees 6 and 1 central Shura in each district with 50% representation in the peace committees. Women representation in Peace Shuras and Peace Committees has been the first of such an innovative approach in Afghanistan and has been very successful. One of our achievements is that the Parwan province has been declared as one of the peaceful provinces of Afghanistan. There are many reasons behind these little achievements, but I would like to acknowledge the valuable support of religious scholars, Peace Committees members and last, but not the least, the financial and moral supporters.


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