“Entrepreneurship is the key for Afghan women”

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Fereshteh Forough is the Co-Founder of Afghan Citadel Software Company (ACSC) and Board Member at Women’s Annex Foundation, U.S.

Q. What are your earliest memories of Afghanistan?
A. I was born in Iran, so unfortunately, I do not have any particular memories of growing up in Afghanistan. My family and I moved to Afghanistan in 2002 during the second year of transitional government. The image that I had in my mind was totally different from what I saw after I arrived. I had heard stories and seen pictures in my family’s album before, so it felt amazing to be there. I was not anymore afraid of being treated differently. It was a home-coming for me. I was in the place where I belonged.

Q. How do you see the progress and evolution of women in Afghanistan in last 12 years?
A. Since the fall of Taliban regime, women have made tremendous progress and taken giant strides in many fields. Women have decent political representation now. Women have access to education and healthcare services. There has been a significant decline in maternal mortality rate because of many awareness campaigns. There have been serious efforts from all stakeholders, and it is likely to get only better from here.

Q. What is the role of Afghan women, both living inside and abroad, in shaping the destiny of their country post 2014?
A. This is a good question but it is difficult to answer it briefly. I would say that entrepreneurship is the key for Afghan women. There are a great number of Afghan women entrepreneurs inside and outside the country, who run successful small and big business enterprises. It does not only create job opportunities for other women, but also promotes the idea od women’s empowerment.

Q. The crimes against women still continue at alarming rate. What do you think are the main factors responsible for it?
A. I would say illiteracy, orthodox beliefs and behaviour of men, in some cases. Social traditions are usually not based on Islamic tenets, like for example considering women as “second class”. Islam has clearly emphasized on granting equal rights to both men and women, without any kind of discrimination. Women in Afghanistan are not fully aware of their rights because they are not educated enough, and also because men are not taking interest in promoting women’s rights. There are very few men who are strong advocates of women’s rights. We need to have a constructive conversation that engages both sides, women and men.

Q. How do you predict the future of Afghan women, especially after the withdrawal of international troops in 2014?
A. Gender inequality and violence against women are very critical issues. Many efforts have been made to protect women’s rights in the past 13 years. Having the support of international community is of utmost importance. There are many laws for women approved by the government but implementation is lacking. The presence of international community technically means “peace” or “less violence”. I am positive and hopeful that the new government will support and engage more Afghan women.

Q. How has been the experience of living and working in U.S.?
A. It has been a wonderful experience. Every day is like a learning process for me. I have met many inspiring people either through my studies or work. Living in a safe environment with many useful resources is a blessing. I try to use every single opportunity here to be the voice of my people in Afghanistan, especially the Afghan women. I often speak about the amazing things they have done despite heavy odds.

Q. What are your dreams for your country?
A. Peace and equality is what I want for my country. A peaceful Afghanistan where all Afghans are treated equally, irrespective of their beliefs, gender, ethnicities and religion. A progressive society where people respect each other’s beliefs and ideas without resorting to violence. It is very much possible.



About Zafar Mehdi
Maverick journalist, irreverent rebel, travel freak, cricket junkie, reluctant fundamentalist, student of life, dreamer, believer.

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