“I have often heard that Afghan women are not political. That peace and security is man’s work. I am here to challenge that illusion.” Addressing the United Nations Security Council 2001 meeting on the implementation of Resolution 1325, Jamila Afghani continued, “I am a woman fighting for education. In Afghanistan and Pakistan that is politics. I run a humanitarian NGO. In Afghanistan and Pakistan that is politics.”
Raised during the Soviet invasion of her country, Jamila began her peacemaking career as a social worker in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. In addition to addressing basic camp needs, she taught Qur’anic education classes. Through these classes, many of the women learned to read and write for the first time. After the fall of the Taliban, Jamila moved back to Afghanistan and founded the Noor Educational Centre (NEC) in Western Kabul, the most war-looted and structurally damaged part of the city. One of her strongest memories of NEC’s first year was the death by stoning of one of her students by another. Responding to evident need, NEC developed accelerated peace education, economic skills training, human rights, and gender training specifically from an Islamic perspective.
NEC now provides hundreds of women, youth and children in Kabul, Ghazni and Jalalabad with health, literacy, vocational, internet, English language and other specialized classes. It has reached thousands of men and women through large-scale outreach projects around the country. When barriers to women’s and girls’ education arise, Jamila creatively overcomes them. For example she designed an outreach program whereby the boys using NEC’s library were awarded prizes for every five girls they brought to use the books. In a place where women’s contributions are often underestimated, NEC’s work has been transformative: A mother of one of Jamila’s students told her, “Before I was praying to Allah to give me sons, but now I wish all of my sons were daughters and that my daughters were all like Jamila.”
In collaboration with the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, Jamila created the first holistic gender-sensitive imam training program in Kabul and the surrounding areas. In its initial form, the program has resulted in a series of khutbas (Friday sermons) in twenty of the city’s influential mosques. An Islamic scholar herself, Jamila has also proposed the creation of an Islamic institute for women in Afghanistan, so that more women can access their own tradition to strengthen their understanding, protect themselves from injustice and violence, and play a greater role in national affairs. In her own words, “Even our women parliamentarians could not play a major role for women’s life improvement [so far] as they could not argue with male parliamentarians from Islamic values, and women’s mouths get shut when they don’t have Islamic justifications.”
Jamila has prevailed over societal and familial opposition to become professionally trained in international relations, Sharia law and Islamic education. In a manner rooted in her religion and culture, she educates and mobilizes women to bring their concerns – and their capacity – to the attention of local, national, and international audiences. As she told the UN Security Council, “Women must be consulted in peace negotiations and peace building…Tap our networks that reach and assist women and their families. Women must be included to ensure peace and lasting security.”
This video was made possible by grants from Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Henry Luce Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of Tanenbaum. Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action program is also supported by the Leir Charitable Foundations.