As a woman working for an NGO, I met several challenges working in these areas. Even though I know their culture and traditions, and dress and look the same as them, I got asked questions about not having a Muharram, whether I have a husband, and how my husband allows me to travel and how can I interview non-mahram men?

Ms. Guljan is our education officer in Badakhshan and was involved in the beneficiary selection of NACs new food distribution project. This is her story about the field mission and the reality of living in rural Afghanistan:

My thirty-five-day mission was completed during a trip to the Yawan and Kohistan districts in the north of Afghanistan, where we conducted a survey to find the families in greatest need of food.

No schools or teachers

What was different with this trip was that I usually go to schools and meet with teachers, principals, and school administrators, but this time I went to twenty-four villages and met with four hundred families to observe their daily lives in order to assess who was in greater need.

Guljan met this little girl while traveling in the countryside to find those with the greatest needs of food rations.

Village house north in Afghanistan. Animal excrements are laid to dry to be used as heating in the winter.

Patriarchy and poverty

I saw children suffering from malnutrition, and because of old patriarchal traditions, girls are mostly uneducated and forced to marry at a very young age. There are no schools, and if there are, there are no teachers.

But in every village, the religious schools are open and attract children and teach them only religious lessons that sometimes are in line with the Taliban interpretation of Islam. Mothers either die because of too many births or suffer from malnutrition and various diseases. Believing that the Muslim population should be increased, many believe that women should give birth each year, and that family planning is a sin in Islam. The hygiene situation is also very bad, causing unnecessary infections and disease.

There exists no information about women’s rights in these villages. I was asked what my husband is doing, in which I replied that he is unemployed. It was astonishing to them that our family’s income was made by the woman.

Film: How midwives save lives in the countryside

Midwives educated by NAC. They make a huge difference on life and death in the countryside.

Village chiefs and community leaders

Poverty is everywhere in these villages. But instead of introducing the most needed families to be on the NAC list for receiving food, the village chiefs or community leaders were trying to include the names of those who have a better life and are not the ones in greatest need.

I met many of these families who told me that any charity or help that comes from NGOs or the government, will only be received by the powerful people in the villages, and that they don’t share with those who are in real need off support.

Because of unemployment, our young men go to Iran or join the national army, and several of them lose their lives on the way to Iran or in the war. If they die, their fiancés are forced to marry the second brothers, who still might be children, or they become the second wife of an older brother. Seeing what these girls must go through filled my heart with pain and made me forget my own problems.

A woman with a very young muharram.

Looking back

As my husband is unemployed, I support my family and take care of my children. I travel without a mahram which is not a shame or sin. I sit with the men of my country and listen, interview, and teach them. My job requires me to be away from my family for weeks at a time, and I work in unsafe areas. But I keep working for bringing positive changes to my country, even if my contribution is small.

I felt the pain of these oppressed people, and it made me forget all my pain.

Looking back at this trip, I am proud of myself and the work that we do. I felt the pain of these oppressed people, and it made me forget all my pain. More than ever, I am ready to serve and help my people. I am proud of the fact that as a woman I can work and prove that women are every bit as capable as men to work and provide for our families. Through my job and the work that we do, I show by example to our communities that women can also play a significant role in education, health, economy, politics and all areas of progress and development of society.