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Voices of Afghan women
Herat, Afghanistan – In a country whose people have lived side-by-side with conflict and insecurity for decades, the impact on women has been especially hard. Never moreso than under the Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001, when women were forbidden to work, attend school beyond the age of eight or even leave home without a male escort.

But now women are playing a greater role as Afghans attempt to rebuild their livelihoods, especially in the agricultural sector on which 85 per cent of people depend.

Below, women working on a FAO-implemented seed project tell their stories.

Nazila Jamshidi, laboratory assistant, Herat Seed Test Laboratory

I am helping find better seeds for our farmers. I record the seed samples and look at them under a microscope to help test their purity. The work we do is important – if the seeds are not pure the farmers will get a bad harvest.

I live with my mother and two brothers; my father died during conflict in Iran 18 years ago when I was two. I am the only one working so this job is very important to me. I get US$500 each month and the money pays for food, rent, heating, electricity and water. It also means I can get medicine for my mother who is ill and gets terrible headaches. This costs US$100 a month. At the end I have a little bit left to save for the future.

Fariha Azimi, laboratory helper, Herat Seed Test Laboratory

I plant the seeds in their boxes, water them and help collect them once grown. I started off cleaning and helping around the laboratory, but my colleagues helped train me so now I know about growing and checking the seeds. I am glad I have new skills as they will help me earn money. I have five children; my husband works for the government but I need to work too so we have enough money. Otherwise things would be difficult. I have never heard anyone complain about me being a woman who works, but I don’t think everyone agrees with it. My family have never opposed it but I think neighbours and others may disapprove. It can be difficult for women in this country and it got a lot worse during the Taliban years – it was much stricter.

Fatima, seed worker, Urdo Khan Variety Trial Site

I do weeding and I also help pick seeds from the wheat and put them in sample bags for testing. About 15 of us sit in a small tent removing the seeds from the heads, while a strong wind blows against the canvas all day. I have seven children but only one is working; one of my other sons lost his hand in a mine explosion, while my husband died six years ago.

We do not have much but with this money we can pay our rent and buy the food we need. I can also buy pens and notebooks for my children for school; I want them to learn as much as possible so they will have a chance when they grow up. I do this work for four months a year; the rest of the time I do laundry and embroidery.

Shah Bibi, seed worker, Urdo Khan Variety Trial Site

I weed the fields, clean the seeds and help sort them. We work from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Our village is close to the field so many of the women go home for lunch or we bring something here. I have eight children and I am poor as no one else is working. My husband is disabled – he had an operation three years ago and it left his arm badly damaged. I spend the money on rent and items such as rice, cooking oil and clothing. I have never had any problems from people about me being a working woman. All the women here have to work, for their survival and the survival of their families.

6 August 2007

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FAO in the danger zone

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Laboratory technician Nazila Jamshidi inspects seeds.

Audio

More and more women staff are employed at Seed Variety Trial sites. This is the case of Shah Bibi, a seed worker at Afghanistan's Urdo Khan Variety Trial site, Herat (1'13") (mp3)

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Fariha Azimi at work in the project-refurbished laboratory in Herat.

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Women working at a seed trial site near Herat.

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