Monday, February 29, 2016

The voice of Kandahar

Maryam Durani
My name is Maryam Durani daughter of Muhammad Essa Durani, I come from an extremely big family. I am a civil activist in Kandahar and I work for women’s issues in Kandahar. I started in 2002. I started my works from teaching when I returned to Afghanistan. My services in the field were training for women in making and selling handicrafts in bazaars, in order to help them earn a living and to support their families. I began to educate girls and women, with time, and then increased the scope of my training sessions for women, to incorporate making art and handicrafts, and then, to tackle medical issues. Slowly, with time, I also set up the first all-women’s radio in Kandahar; it is called Merman Radio or Women Radio,to address gender inequalities in Kandahar province and bring women’s voices to the forefront. Merman Radio is empowering Kandahar’s youth, especially women, and media professionals to explore sensitive issues of gender, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, in addition to economic and social issues.

 When the internet became an important part of everyday living, I set up a net café by the name of ‘Malalai Maiwandi Internet Café’ for women and girls, where they could learn how to use the internet. Up until then, internet cafes were available for access only in bazaars, and women and girls couldn’t go in as easily. Slowly, I also went on to establishing an English Learning Centre, intended to teach women and girls English in the contemporary and modern style. This is called the House of Learning, which is a professional educational institution in Kandahar, and is the first Institute of Modern studies for girls in Kandahar that is managed by women for women. The Institute provides women with the opportunity to receive education in Business Management, Information Technology, English, and Communications. Its programs provide students with the skills needed to obtain employment to support themselves and their families, improve their communities and participate in the reconstruction of Kandahar. I also make use of a special network of women called Kandahar women’s Network to help these women solve their everyday issues, and to brainstorm regularly, in order to find solution to issues.

As the self-sufficiency of the women and girls rose, we also began to focus on building a yearly or annual program to help women provide for their families. Through this annual program, we give women cash and materials required for their home. I have made one library that will be inaugurated very soon, which is a fully functional library, and it will be named as Bibi Aisha Sadiqa, that is the first women's library in Afghanistan.

I am now the Director of the Khadija Kubra Women’s Association for Culture, the Director of Merman (Women’s Radio), the Head of Kandahar women’s Network, the Head of House of Learning and a former member of the Kandahar Provincial Council. I was first elected as a Kandahar Provincial Council Member in 2005 at the age of 21 and for a second term in 2009.I served as one of only four women on the Council and brought women’s concerns and a woman’s perspective to the activities and discussions of the Council.
One would think that my work here is because of a childhood in Afghanistan. But, I did not live my childhood years in Kandahar, or in any part of Afghanistan. I was, instead, in Iran, as my family had immigrated due to the many wars in Afghanistan. Living outside Afghanistan had its own advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantages were that I was educated, and got to learn a lot about the world that has helped me in my work for the future of Afghanistan, and has remained vital for the nation’s advancement. The tough side to living abroad is that facilities and infrastructure required for personal advancement are accessible only to citizens. Even though my father was very educated, talented and experienced, he couldn’t get a job in Iran. The people, too, were a little rude to foreigners, with exception.

Having learned so much, I returned to Afghanistan to help work to build the future of my country. Afghanistan has become so multi-cultural because of the arrival of foreigners, and people of different cultures. This, the war, and the lack of education among the masses has tended to create a lot of room for a continued state of violence.

I see that there is a huge gap between what is needed and what is provided. Education is so fixed and rigid on the literacy quotient, but does nothing to help prevent and address violence. We have only education, but no training or means to equip ourselves against exigencies. Our girls, and our women, they are all exceptionally talented and know how to speak, to read and to write. But, they don’t know how to respond to violence and protect themselves. For solving this problem we have planned to have some training programs in schools if the Education Department of Kandahar help us or allow us to do so, thenwe plan to categorize students according to age – so you have one group with children aged seven to nine, a second for those aged between nine and fourteen, and a third, for those aged between fourteen and eighteen. Each group will be given a separate training program. We will also do a radio program to train parents, because they should also help encourage their children in the same direction. We will train the children at school and the parents via radio.

I was selected by Time Magazine as one among the “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.” As the owner and operator of a radio station (Merman Radio) that focuses on women's issues and as a member of the Kandahar provincial council, they lauded my work for standing up for Afghan women with remarkable bravery.  I was also the recipient of the 2012 U.S. Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage Award. I was then selected as one of 30 young activists by National Endowment for Democracy in 2013, and received the 2014 Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award: Freedom of Speech and Expression. More recently, I received the Peace Generation Award in October 2015 in New York from N-Peace (UNDP). This Award is given to leaders and peace builders creating change at the grassroots in Asia. Coordinated by the N-Peace Network across Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, the Awards shine a light on women and men who demonstrate leadership in building peace and empowering their communities. I also received the international Simorgh Peace Prize from Armanshahr Foundation in 2015, for her persistence in her initiatives to make voices of women from Kandahar be heard world over.

The happiest moments in my work so far have been to see little girls and boys wanting to be like me. It is so moving when a young boy comes and tells me that I am his role model. And yet, I face a lot of challenges in the form of security issues and traditional mindsets. People are resistant to my work due to cultural and traditional ideologies. I overcome these issues through openness, communication and education.