A Tale of Two Women

“You cannot make bread without wheat. Many of us have no husbands, or have husbands who refuse to work. It’s up to us to hold ou
“You cannot make bread without wheat. Many of us have no husbands, or have husbands who refuse to work. It’s up to us to hold our families together.” — Sairah, USAID cash-for-work employee
When women work together in the volatile south, families and communities benefit
When Sairah, a 38-year-old Afghan housewife, heard that short-term jobs for women were opening in her city, her first thought was where to sign up. “They said it would be difficult work, but I didn’t care. I’m used to heavy burdens,” said Sairah.
Her family of seven lives in Hilmand Province. Her husband is an opium addict and hasn’t worked in years. One of her sons has a low-paying job as a watchman, but otherwise, the burden of sustaining the family falls squarely on her shoulders.
Sairah is one of hundreds of women participating in a USAID cash-for-work activity to rehabilitate women’s schools and parks. Today Sairah is stacking stones around the border of a flowerbed on the grounds of Lashkari Bazaar Girls’ High School. With few secure places for women to congregate in the Hilmand capital, this garden will soon provide a shaded refuge where the girls can gather between classes and after school.
While Sairah and other women work in the midday sun, Belqis Barrai, the project engineer overseeing the project, arrives to inspect their progress. Belqis is a 28-year-old graduate from Kandahar University. In a country where most women marry at an early age, Belqis remains single so that she can work to make life better for Afghan women. “If I got married, my husband might tell me to stay home, and this I cannot do.”
Employing women on labor projects was Belqis’s idea. She designed the projects, received the necessary approval, and now oversees the implementation. “Women need the money, and men cannot work on women-only sites, such as this school, so it is a good solution for us.” Sairah has tried getting work before, but opportunities for women are few in the male-dominated southern province. Belqis signed her up to work on the two-month project, and now Sairah has money to get her husband treatment for his addiction.
“Belqis and I are different women with different experiences. She’s a single woman doing what she wants with her life. I think that’s great. I have respect for her. She thinks about the needs of women. We need more women like her, and more projects like this,” said Sairah.

Last updated: January 12, 2015

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