8th March this year marks the 103rd annual International Women’s Day. The worldwide event aims to celebrate the achievements of women around the globe while highlighting the progress, which still needs to be made in order to achieve equality. For many women in Pakistan and Afghanistan, this road to equality has been a long one and continues to be so, with many obstacles to overcome. Cultural constraints and restrictions inhibit the freedom of women and the conservative patriarchal society prevents them from participating in education and employment in both countries. Violence against women including domestic abuse, sexual assaults and acid throwing are alarmingly common. Women are politically underrepresented and lack the opportunities, forum and institutional support to make their voices heard. Gender-specific issues, such as maternal healthcare, are therefore neglected, literally endangering the lives of Pakistani and Afghan women.
This year, International Women’s Day is challenging the global community to advocate for the advancement of women everywhere through the theme of Inspiring Change. Inspiration and change are certainly imperative to the realization of empowerment and equality for women and girls in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Inspiring women to strive for opportunities, and inspiring communities to celebrate and support their mothers, daughters, sisters and wives, are central to affecting positive change in the status of these marginalized women.
Church World Service- Pakistan/Afghanistan (CWS-P/A) is working to achieve this change by promoting the health, education and economic wellbeing of women and girls. The mother and child health clinic in Thatta provides ante and post natal care to pregnant women and new mothers, and a family planning service which helps women and their families to make informed decisions. The sexual and reproductive health rights of women are also promoted in Thatta, through awareness-raising sessions, which aim to educate and empower women. CWS-P/A is also promoting literacy, vocational skills, economic welfare and increasing disaster risk reduction knowledge of these women, to reduce their dependence on their male family members and increase their standing and influence in their families and communities. In Afghanistan, CWS-P/A is working to extend educational opportunities to girls by advocating for the value of female education in communities and building the capacity of teachers and schools to respond to the needs of female students and provide them with a good standard of education in a safe and encouraging environment.
CWS-P/A is also striving to enhance good governance in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is vital in bridging the gender gap. Good governance will institutionalize fairness in access to opportunities, and will protect women and girls from gender based violence, which is such a prominent feature in the lives of so many women.
It is clear that change needs to be inspired for women as individuals, for their families and communities, and for the decision-makers in both countries who send a message to their citizens every day about how women should be treated, through both their action and inaction.
This International Women’s Day and beyond, CWS-P/A celebrates the women and girls of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and seeks to work with and for them to achieve an inclusive, equal, fair and safe society.