The Afghanistan Women’s Empowerment Program (AWEP), a partnership between Global Affairs Canada and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, is a complex four-year programme spread out across three provinces of Afghanistan – Baghlan, Bamyan, and Takhar.
Put simply, we are working with two groups: women, and the people with whom they live, study, and work. We want to help women develop the self-confidence and tools to fully engage with their society and the marketplace, but we are also working with the broader community – such as their husbands, brothers, and fathers; religious and traditional leaders; and government officials – to prepare them for women becoming more active in the public sphere.
For us, empowerment is defined as a woman’s ability to make choices about her future, about things like how she engages in society or how she earns an income. However, the ability to choose is null if the community rejects or discourages women from making choices. When working on empowerment, it’s as important to engage with the gatekeepers as it is to help people “find their keys.”
All of our work is rooted at the community level, where we have made considerable investments in both formal institutions, like governments and the private sector, and informal institutions, like village organizations.
When we enter a community, we engage with all the formal and informal actors – situating gender equality within the local context, providing methods of consulting and engaging with women, and designing programs with women for women. This helped us build a foundation where women could begin to safely engage and start challenging gender norms around women’s work.
The programme is benefitting 234,094 Afghans, including 213,058 women and adolescent girls, and 21,036 men and women in key roles, including personnel of the Department of Women’s Affairs and District Governor Offices, religious leaders, members of existing community institutions, members of civil society organisations, and the media. The programme is working predominantly in rural areas.