Nazila Jamshidi is an Afghan gender specialist and human/women’s rights activist. Since 2005 she has been assisting various governmental and non- governmental organizations such as Western Municipalities, the Department of Agriculture, Herat’s female prison, the Afghan Red Crescent Society, the UN and various NGOs to include a gender focus as part of their policies, strategies and foundational documents as well as the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Afghanistan. Nazila is committed to human rights and women rights and has helped a considerable number of women in the western provinces of Afghanistan to recognize and claim their rights as humans and members of the larger community. Her defense of human rights has been visible through her assistance of Herati female prisoners in different ways, such as guiding prison leadership to provide a better living situation for female prisoners and to make sure that prisoners will have a better life when they are release. She has provided different vocational training courses for newly released prisoners to help do just that.
This year, MALA is spotlighting individual stories from men and women who take a stand to eliminate violence against women, both nationally and globally. Our community looks forward to supporting UN Women’s Orange the World Campaign to support efforts to end violence against women and girls worldwide. UN Women and partners around the world are marking the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, launching from International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th until UN’s International Human Rights Day on December 10th.
I was merely 11 years old, doing my homework in corner of yard when my uncle sat in front of me, taking my notebook, pencile and book and said: give your school equipment to your brother. It is time to think about white dress for you. Say goodbye to your books and notebooks. On that time for first time, I realized there is a great differences between me and my brothers. I understood I have born with different sex in which I have no equal rights. Born in very traditional family and growing in a patriarchal and fanatical group of people, I was supposed to serve men and raise as a housewife, get married at the age of 12 just like my sister and every other girl in my family.
I was born in a community where education for girls was acceptable only to help them write and read, where girls were born to serve men and had no right to take decision about their life and career. Observing women in my family and my sister and mother, I did not want to follow their path but I wanted to go to school and became someone. I lost my father at the age of 2 and after that time my uncle took control on my family. I am a woman who experienced her books at fire at the night of final exam, has been beaten because I came from school and to convince my uncle to allow me to go to school I had to go to hunger strike for few days.
Despite all the difficulties not only I could finish high school, but I could support and taught some of my cousins who were not able to go to school.
When we returned to Afghanistan on 2005 from Iran I was confident that living in my own country would eliminate all the problems that I had in Iran. It did so, but new obstacles appeared at the same time. Living in Afghanistan was difficult for our family; everyone had to contribute, so I postponed my wish of higher education and started to work to support my family. Although working for 50 hours a week was a tough job for a teenager, but I could learn many things and besides I could save some money to continue my education.
After returning from Iran I started to seek job opportunities, finally in early 2005 I was able to join UNHCR. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a UN organization which is active in Herat, Afghanistan for a long time. I started to work there as a Database Clerk. I was then recommended by some of the friends to join FAO which is another UN agency working in the field of food and agriculture. I first joined FAO as Laboratory Technician. I started to work very hard and showed a lot of respect to my colleagues and supervisors. I was soon promoted to Laboratory Assistant followed by Head of Seed Testing Laboratory. I supported a specific project working for improvement of seed industry. Sensitive tasks were given to me including interaction with the government and private sector on quality control standards, communicating and guiding field inspection teams for proper application of quality control procedures in the field and issuance of Seed Quality Control certificates. As a part of my job I traveled to remote areas of the country to ensure the implementation of tasks and to conduct training. Each journey inspired and encouraged me to continue to move towards achieving my higher goals.
FAO gave me experience and confidence. I attended many professional training courses in Afghanistan and abroad. In 2008, I was invited to attend a study tour in India. It was an important decision for me, I had to decide whether to go to the training course alone or miss the entire program. I decided to ignore all the biases and go there alone without a male company or Mahram. Fortunately, my mother supported my decision. After this tour to India, I felt more confident. I thought that I was able to break some of the dark boundaries around me. At that time I reached to an important conclusion; as all human beings are equal, the suffering for the women should end, and the people should understand that women are not weak, women are not the property of men and women cannot be enslaved. Women are life, they are half of the society, they should be respected and their rights should not be violated.
During my association with FAO, I also acted as Gender Advisor and Advocate in FAO, assisting ladies to understand their rights as women and I supported gender equality. As I was in constant contact with government institutions as well as private sector, I always encouraged the authorities to focus on gender equality and to consider gender as a cross-cutting issue. As a part of my job I was visiting women working in Urdo Khan Research Farm (A governmental research farm in Enjil district of Herat province) and female employees of some enterprises and providing them with consultation. All these efforts encouraged me to study on gender issues more and more. Consequently, I changed my field of work from agriculture to gender and youth.
In 2011, I joined DAI/RAMP UP-West (A USAID funded project) as Gender and Youth Program Assistant. I established the first-ever elected volunteer youth councils in Chaghcharan, Farah and Qala-e-Naw. These provided a vehicle for community youth to interact with the municipality and give their voice in raising issues and solving local problem. I delivered training on Meeting Management, Proposal Writing, Report Writing, and Good Governance to build youth council capacity. As a result a communication bridge was created between the local government and the youth, i.e the Farah Youth Council was the first social entity to organize a voluntary clean-up campaign in the city.
A number of municipalities particularly Farah, Ghor and Badghis not only never hired women as civil servants, but there was no understanding of gender at all. I provided partner municipalities with gender awareness and gender mainstreaming training, this resulted in creation of an idea that promoted the positive, important and potential impact of gender equality in the process of development in urban areas. Consequently, municipalities started to operate in a somehow balanced manner when it came to gender, i.e Chaghcharan municipality, hired its first female employee ever, followed by second and third and fortunately, this trend continues to grow up. I managed the first Municipal Internship Program in western municipalities of Afghanistan. It was initially planned to implement the internship program for one term, yet the outcome was so successful that convinced the DAI/RAMPUP authorities to implement the same program two more terms.
The first round of the program covered 31 interns that were fully trained in the required fields. The other two rounds included 54 interns. As part of this new initiative I was responsible to design and manage the entire program in four provinces of Herat, Farah, Ghor and Badghis. This task required frequent travels to the unsafe provinces of Farah, Badghis and Ghor alone to ensure that the program would create the desired result. The impact of the internship program was beyond everyone expectations, I assisted 85 young girls and boys gain technical skills and helped build a cadre of young professionals for the future municipal workforce. In consultation with other technical team members I developed a training curriculum and designed a series of training modules such as Report Writing, Public Participation, Conflict Management, Municipal Budgeting, Presentation Skills, and HR management and on-the-job training to enhance intern capacity so they gained skills, confidence and courage to apply for key positions after graduation.
I enjoyed mentoring young and inexperienced interns in remote and poor provinces of western region. I was often called “the mother of inters” by my colleagues and inters due my intense concern, care and sensitivity on proper implementation of the program and these attributes, to my satisfaction, resulted in employment of 48 of interns in municipalities and other governmental entities. The internship program not only resulted in creation of a dedicated workforce, but it also created a social group of girls and boys who had common pains and difficulties. I used every opportunity to gather the interns together and create a healthy environment for competition. The program resulted in employment of female in a key position of municipality of Farah; a province where working of women outside home was considered a taboo.
Today I am a woman with a decade experience and practical and academic knowledge who put her life for women of Afghanistan and the promotion of gender equality. Afghan women deserve to voice their specific needs, desires, dreams, rights, and expectations from their communities and to discuss the social norms and oppression that hold them back. To provide a public platform for women and girls to publicly talk about what they want, wish, dream and expect as well as their rights, I started the “I Have the Right…” Campaign which is an international campaign that was founded in New York City in support of survivors of sexual violence and has spread to other countries, such as Afghanistan, in order to give women and girls a forum to talk about their rights.