Setting an example for women in Afghanistan

“Men are traditionally the head of the family so we need to engage and educate them on women’s rights… but day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year, I believe it will get better.” - Zahra Akbari, Community Mobilizer, Afghanistan

​Zahra Akbari works full-time, attends university four nights-a-week to study a Bachelor of Law and Political Science, and has a nine-month-old daughter. This juggling act is no small feat, let alone as a woman in Afghanistan.

As a community mobilizer, Zahra works closely with women in northern Afghanistan, where UNOPS is connecting remote villages to services and markets through improved roads, thanks to funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

"When I travel to rural communities, I'm often the only woman with a dozen male colleagues. For me it's become routine – I work with these men every day in the office. In the villages, some of the older women disapprove, but a few of the younger ones are inspired – I can see their eyes light up. There are already a few female leaders in these communities and it is my hope to see more and more."

Zahra is supporting Afghan women to earn money by keeping livestock, spinning wool, tailoring and participating in other small-scale enterprises set up in parallel with the Rural Access Improvement Project.

With an extensive background working with women and increasing their awareness of Afghanistan's political landscape and woman's rights, Zahra is shocked and disheartened by the prevalence of gender-based violence in the country.

"Afghan families can comprise up to 10 people – a huge group to survive on one income. It's even more difficult for widows who might have five or six children, or the wives of farmers who can't grow anything during the winter months."

Because of these challenges, Zahra said most men were interested in their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters working to support their families. But there were a couple of women who left the working groups because their husbands didn't approve. Zahra's husband, on the other hand, encourages her efforts as an employee, a student and a mother: roles made more taxing as the security situation continues to deteriorate.​​