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Protecting women’s rights defenders in Afghanistan

Issues Affecting Women Programme / Partner story

Photo by ArmyAmber from Pixabay

For International Women’s Day, we are highlighting the work of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organisation and feminist fund that partners with community-based women’s groups worldwide facing war and disaster. The article below was published in our 2021 Annual Report, which you can read here.

In August 2021, following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, MADRE launched a new campaign to mobilise emergency aid through its Afghan Women’s Survival Fund. The fund initially prioritised emergency evacuations and resettlement for women who were being targeted by the Taliban.

Women around the world worked together, often leveraging personal connections, to access transit and resettlement visas, find seats on flights, secure accommodation, and welcome Afghan women into countries of asylum. Jamila Afghani, president of the WILPF-Afghanistan section, is one of the women’s rights activists who was supported to flee Afghanistan. Reflecting on this support, she said: “Women are facing so many difficulties. So this small hope is a big sum for those who are in a such a dire situation. This is a feminist approach of sisterhood, sisters helping sisters without any political agenda. This is like a gift from God.”

But most women human rights defenders in Afghanistan are unable to travel abroad or prefer to stay and continue their work in secret. The fund is protecting these women too. It supports relocation inside the country and provides humanitarian aid for women and their families facing shortages of food, fuel, and water due to the collapse of the government, Covid-19, and drought. Organisations are receiving money for travel, fuel, food, medical care, and secure communications technology. The physical safety, emotional wellbeing, and regular connections between activists are an integral part of the care this fund offers.

Throughout the world, in ways big and small, feminist activists are showing up for each other, whether it is organising a fund to help evacuate activists at risk of Taliban retribution, or by re-imagining digital security training as an opportunity to strengthen feminist solidarity networks.

“Women’s rights activists have always helped and supported each other to get through hard times. We now recognise this support as collective care and understand its importance in fuelling continued resilience and resistance within feminist movements,” says Katharina Samara-Wickrama, director of the Issues Affecting Women Programme. “We are increasingly prioritising collective care as part of our accompaniment support for grantee partners and believe this will help increase the sustainability and impact of the incredible partners we support.”

This grant falls under Oak’s Issues Affecting Women programme (IAWP), which seeks to strengthen women’s organisations and movements, enabling them to learn from each other and work together to develop knowledge and skills, and to plan, organise and mobilise. You can find more about the programmes work here.