My life has not been particularly long--I'm only 37--but already I have been a daughter, a mother, a leader, a war-survivor and three-times a refugee. As an Afghan woman I look back on my time on this earth and already I can see how much has changed for Afghanistan, even in so short a time. Yet looking back, I see that for the women of Afghanistan, the more things change, the more they stay the same. New leaders and regimes come and go in Afghanistan, but they do so waving a banner that either curtails or expands women's rights. As a mother I only want the best for my children, and for others growing up in Afghanistan.
On this Mother's Day, I have enormous gratitude to women and men in the United States and around the world who are taking steps to support and empower women survivors of the conflict in my country. Women and men in nearly every state in America have sponsored 'sisters' through Women for Women International. By paying $27 dollars a month, they are giving women the tools to rebuild their lives, families and communities after the destruction of war. Here's why that means so much.
I grew up in an Afghanistan that is different from the one you see on the news today. My mother was educated and became a medical doctor and a professor at a university, but I was forced to drop out of medical school in the third year when the Mujahidin took power. If my daughter were sick in today's Afghanistan, she would have to sit on the other side of a protective sheet while a male doctor asked questions about her health from the other side, forbidden to touch her body. She could receive an education in the schools built especially for girls in reconstruction, but she could not be sure that extremists wouldn't spray her with acid or gas for her efforts. I have a different hope for my daughter and all of the children of my country.
I know that mothers everywhere share the same hopes and dreams: to have the means to take care of themselves and their families, to live with dignity and self-respect, and to leave the world a better place than they found it I work everyday to make that dream a reality for the mothers of Afghanistan.
As an Afghan woman, I know that women's voices are not adequately represented. We are absent from schools, absent from the economic sector, and threatened when we dare run for office or speak out on our own behalf.
In my current role as Country Director for Women for Women International-Afghanistan, I direct programs that have helped more than 80,000 women since 2002 by providing direct financial assistance, rights education, vocational skills training and micro-loans. In July 2004, I launched one of the country's first micro-credit lending programs targeting women, which has since disbursed over $12 million to approximately 47,000 women who maintain an average repayment rate of over 90%. The truth is in these statistics: Women represent tremendous potential for the rebuilding of Afghanistan's families and communities, yet for all my efforts to open opportunities for my Afghan sisters, I received a letter warning me that to continue to do my work in Afghanistan would seal the death sentence of my six-year-old son.
Yet I am one of the lucky ones, fortunate to escape and hopefully provide a better future for my husband and my children. I have spent the past year in forced exile in Washington DC. As a wife and mother I've come to appreciate some of most life's simple pleasures. One of those pleasures is putting food on the table everyday for my family, without giving it a second thought. It's not the same back home, where food scarcity and starvation threatens some seven million Afghans.
So on this Mother's Day, I hope we can all reflect on how much work there is still to be done to ensure women all over the world have the same opportunities to access sufficient food, education, equal employment, and most of all, the freedom to enjoy life's greatest blessings: our children.
Sweeta Noori is the Country Director of the Afghanistan chapter of international humanitarian and development assistance nonprofit organization Women for Women International. Born in Kabul in 1973, Noori has survived many regime changes and social shifts in her homeland, from the Soviet occupation, to the mujahidin, to the Taliban, to today's fledgling democracy. Noori served as an assistant for the Chair of the Loya Jirga Commission, which helped to form the interim administration and new constitution for Afghanistan. She has continued to work for the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan ever since. For more information about Sweeta's work at Women for Women International, visit www.womenforwomen.org or contact Lyric Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Zainab Salbi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zainabsalbi