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Monday, October 10, 2011

Britain aiding projects of Afghan pioneers

Robert Fox in Bamiyan
10 Oct 2011

Ten years after the fall of the Taliban and the ousting of their al Qaeda allies, conditions for most women in most of Afghanistan are still pretty dire.

Quietly, however, foreign aid agencies and organisations have been working steadily to improve their lot. The British Government, through Department for International Development programmes, has been assisting schemes for clinics, the training of midwives and nurses, and helping women to run businesses and access loans.

Often the help is given at a serious physical risk to both adviser and recipient. Increasingly, however, I have come across women prepared to speak out and lead. Among the most successful is Dr Habiba Surabi, 55, from Bamiyan, the only female governor of a province in Afghanistan.

Under the Taliban she helped to run underground schools and clinics for her Hazara community. In Bamiyan she sponsors a "one plus two" scheme. One adult who can read and write must teach an illiterate colleague, or two, for at least four hours a week.

In poor and remote Bamiyan, 90 per cent of children are in school. In this year's intake of seven-year-olds, just over 51 per cent are girls.

"I'm really proud of that," the governor told me. Assessed as the best-performing local official, she has been offered a UK-funded project of her choice.

Habiba Danish, 30, is the country's youngest woman MP. A Tajik sitting for the province of Takhar, she campaigns against drugs and believes the state must do more to help addicts.

Behind such high-profile women, thousands are making headway - magistrates in Herat, teachers in Helmand. In Lashkar Gah, the all-women's radio station Muska (smile) is in its third year. Zahidi, a journalist, credits those behind it with improving child-care, cooking and hygiene - and helping women to shop alone in the bazaar.

LONDON EVENING STANDARD

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