Part of 16 Days of Activism against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

On the 25th of November 2013, UNHCR operations around the globe launched the annual 16 Days of Activism against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.  UNHCR in Herat, Afghanistan took part in the campaign that brings together girls, parents, teachers, communities and NGO partners. The theme for this year focuses on school-related activities, encouraging teachers and students to unite against SGBV. In Herat, this campaign itself is not a standalone activity, but part of an advocacy and co-existence project started in mid-2013, with Sanayee Development Organization (SDO) as the main partner, in order to prevent and reduce the risk of SGBV in Herat province among returnees, IDPs and host community.

For this campaign, UNHCR teamed up with SDO, WESSDO (a local NGO that concentrates on sport and social development), Department of Education and the Herat provincial cricket department to advocate for women’s rights by empowering women and girls through sport, namely cricket. This may sound simple, but for girls in Afghanistan, it is not.

There are very few playing fields for women to conduct physical activities and to be active. As opposed to men, girls and women are faced with specific obstacles, which make it difficult for them to actively take part in the community. In Afghanistan, women’s participation in sport is emerging. However, facilities are limited and advocacy needs to continue in order to change the level of community acceptance. The prevalent idea in the community is that girls should not participate in public events, and should stay at home, where they are safe.

In recent years, sports have gained recognition as a strategy to empower women and girls. It helps them to have a presence in the public spaces and gives them the tools to prevent violence. “Sport and its values are valuable tools to address and improve self-esteem, body control, leadership and assertiveness – all being elements which can contribute to tackling violence” said Ms Anita DeFrantz, from the International Olympic Committee at the  57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, March 2013.

60 girl students and teachers from four Herat High Schools for Girls (Esteqlal, Mihri Herawi, Fikry Saljoqi and Maleka Jalali high schools) participated in the campaign. Awareness sessions on women’s rights were conducted for the students, teachers and parents. Prior to starting the activity, a team from the NGO partners mobilized the students’ parents in order to gain their support and to give them an understanding of its importance so that they allow their children to participate. This helps girls gain the much-needed confidence to pursue activities outside their homes without fear of frown or punishment from their family and community.

The girls enjoyed having extra-curricular activities and weeks of training, learning to play cricket and to exchange ideas and socialize with students from other schools. As part of the program, the girls were also encouraged to voice their ideas on initiatives to help women and girls to have an active role in the society.

“We trusted ourselves and had confidence, which is why we won. We are happy to be part of a team and to play cricket and we hope that we will have more opportunities for our development and that of women in Afghanistan” says Wazma, upon winning the cricket tournament with her team. The final tournament took place on the 8th of Dec 2013 and was attended by representatives from Department of Women Affairs, Department of Education, Department of Refugees and Repatriation, Police department, Sport & Cricket Board Department and local NGOs.

UNHCR in Herat, in collaboration with its local partners, will continue to support co-existence initiatives to empower women and girls and strengthen their protection through sport and other channels.

Read more about Yunesti and her project here.

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