In Afghanistan, women often have no decision-making power. Within the family they usually have to defer to a male relative to make decisions. This is also true when it comes to voting. With Afghanistan holding Presidential elections in 2009 and Parliamentary elections in 2010, many women did not know their rights within a democracy, or have the confidence to resist pressure when it comes to casting their vote. To address this gap in knowledge and awareness, Equal Access established community listening groups for men and women, which are safe places where they can come together and learn about democracy and women’s rights. Many of these women may not have many opportunities to socialize outside the home, and these groups enable participants to build powerful networks of support.
In partnership with the BBC World Service Trust, Equal Access established 16 listening circles for men and women to hear BBC radio shows ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ and the immensely popular ‘Afghan Women’s Hour’. These shows focused on family life, the status of women and the challenges they in Afghanistan, and women’s political participation. To support these listening groups, Equal Access conducted training in elections, women and democracy, and community mobilization with three women’s groups and three men’s groups.
Over 260 women and 40 men in six provinces took part in these meetings at least twice per month. After listening to each radio program, they participated in facilitated discussions to put the topics presented into the context of their daily lives. This program has been enhanced by six sets of training, reinforcing and expanding upon the key messages in the radio episodes. The training also focused on community mobilization, the benefits of working as a community, and how to go about achieving goals in this way.
“We know that we are able to demand our rights from the government, and try to solve our problems. Before we had no information about that. We are illiterate and we are enjoying these programs a lot; it is important for illiterate women to have this kind of information.”