Nasima Rahmani: Leading change in the lives of women in Afghanistan
3 March 2015
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this week, we speak with UTS Luminary Nasima Rahmani about her passion and commitment to improving the lives of Afghan women through education, and her recent work at the Women’s Empowerment Centre in Kabul.
As a tireless advocate for women’s rights, Nasima Rahmani is an embodiment of this year’s IWD theme ‘Make It Happen’, as seen through her work in establishing the Women’s Empowerment Centre at the Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education (GIHE) in Kabul in 2011, where she works as both its Director and as a Lecturer in Law.
Rahmani says that she has been witness to signs of great progress in the position of women in Afghanistan following years of instability in the country, although admits that there is still a long way to go.
“There is so much improvement, especially in the life of women living in the big cities, in particular Kabul. In cities such as Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Bamyan, women go to schools and universities, they work in government and non-government organisations, and take part in political and social activities.”
While she strongly praises the role of the international community, including governments and NGOs, as a driving force behind the progress these women have witnessed in their lives, Rahmani says that a lack of security and instability in the country is still the major challenge for improving the plight of women in Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately for the vast majority of women who are in rural areas, they have not witnessed as much of this progress and improvement in their lives. To some extent that is because of the insecurity in rural areas which means NGOs and government are not able to work there, and there are places were women still do not dare to come out of homes.
“You may have heard in the media that every now and then women are targeted and shot dead by the Taliban – and we have lost a great number of active women and women leaders working with both the government and also those from civil society organisations.
“And apart from this, there are many social and cultural challenges that prevent women from work outside home and affect their everyday life.”
A passion borne of experience
Having grown up in Afghanistan during the 1970s and 1980s, Rahmani has experienced firsthand the challenges of accessing education, with both her school life and tertiary years interrupted by long periods of instability and war. It took her 12 years to be able to complete her law degree at Kabul University, hallmarked by a nine year delay after her first year of study due to the ongoing conflict.
Rahmani then undertook a Masters of Laws at UTS, with the aid of the IDP Peace Scholarship program, and has since worked with not-for-profit organisations, including ActionAid, to further the rights of women, before being invited by the Independent Human Rights Commissioner in Afghanistan, Professor Sima Samar, to establish Afghanistan’s first Women’s Empowerment Centre, based at the GIHE, a non-profit co-educational tertiary institution.
Since its establishment in 2011, the WEC has developed a comprehensive scholarship program for female students, as well as providing English classes and courses on gender studies. With the first cohort of female students graduating from the GIHE in 2014, the WEC is making a significant difference in the lives of the students it supports.
Rahmani has formed a close connection with her students, and says she is also working on developing new projects that will assist them in further developing their skills and work experiences – which she hopes will see them become the leaders of tomorrow.
“We have had 25 girls graduate this year from across the faculties of Law, Political Sciences, Economics and Business at the Gawharshad Institute, sponsored by our WEC scholarship program.
“They are like my daughters and are deeply connected to me and I am sure I have established a life-long relationship with them,” she says.
Continuing to push the agenda
As well as her work at the WEC, Rahmani has also returned to UTS as a current PhD student.
“Women’s rights is my passion – and the issue of divorce is profoundly problematic in Afghanistan and that is the focus of my PhD study.”
Having returned to Australia, Rahmani will be speaking about her work in Kabul at a Woman@UTS’s International Women's Day event this Thursday, March 5.
Ahead of the event, and reflecting on the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, Rahmani offers some words of inspiration to those who are passionate about improving gender equity and supporting human rights.
“I think we all have a responsibility to assist those who need our support, whether these people in need are women or children or men. It really disappoints me when I see sometimes that some people don’t care about what is happening in the poorer areas of the world.
“Australian women enjoy a decent life, freedom and every privilege that women in my part of the world are deprived of. I think it is important to appreciate these privileges and make every possible effort to make a positive impact in another woman’s life, whether it is here, or in another country.
Whether it be a small financial donation, or being mindful and committed to helping those in need, Rahmani says that those people who feel passionate about supporting human rights can make a very significant difference in the lives of those in need.
“For those who are passionate about doing something, even just saving one dollar a day to give to a charity organisation – it will add up to $365 a year.
“That little money can do much in the life of a poor person.”
Story by Rebecca Whalen
Photographs courtesy of Nasima Rahmani
>> Read more about Nasima’s remarkable story in this feature profile ‘Hope and Heroism from an Afghan Torchbearer’ in UTS’s Tower Magazine.