Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland




Inspirational voice for women in Afghanistan visits Lisburn

Suraya PakzadA COURAGEOUS woman who has dared speak out against the brutal cultural traditions of her country, met up this week with local volunteers who raise money for women in Afghanistan

Suraya Pakazd, the founder of Afghanistan's Voice of Women Organisation (VWO), was at the First Lisburn Presbyterian Church as a guest of Christian Aid, raising public awareness about the plight of women in her home land.

At the weekly bread and cheese lunch fundraiser event in the church hall, Suraya said she was delighted to have the chance to meet the volunteers.

" My visit will allow me to tell the people who benefit from the money raised here, how it happens," she said.

Suraya, 37, was married in Kabul at the tender age of 14 to a man 13 years her senior. They have three daughters and three sons, her eldest being 22 years old.

Her marriage is highly unusual in comparison to most Afgan women because her husband treats her with respect, not only encouraging but supporting the charitable work she does which is supported by Christian Aid.

In 1998 Suraya founded the VWO during the most difficult period of the Taliban regime.

"With the support of a few Afghan men and women, the organisation carried out very small activities underground such as basic education projects for marginalised women and girls" she explained. "VWO gradually expanded and we now have three offices in different locations of the western province."

The charity's main goal is to strive for the freedom and empowerment of women in Aghan society through the stipulations mapped out in the resolutions of the United Nations.

Hazel McCall, Lisburn area volunteer organiser for Christian Aid, welcomed Suraya's visit. "Being here will encourage our volunteers. It is nice to be able to put a face to the organisation our work helps," she said.

Suraya, who will travel to Washington to receive a 2008 Women of Courage award from the world's most powerful woman, US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice, believes Afghanistan will never truly prosper without the contributions of its population.

She said: "What does it mean to have a beautiful country if half the population is ignored?

"First of all the problems of women must be addressed to improve their status in social, cultural and financial terms by promoting human rights, women's rights and providing legal and social assistance to them. In the period since the fall of the Taliban there has been considerable change in the legal and institutional framework concerning the situation of women in Afghanistan but there is still some way to go."

Ulster Star