Women for Afghan Women started in 2001 as a grassroots, volunteer-driven effort to help Afghan women and girls find justice for brutal conditions imposed by the Taliban, who ruled over most of the country at the time. Since then, a small staff and a committed group of volunteers have provided the gamut of services – including crisis management, human rights advocacy, legal services, and domestic violence counseling – for Afghan women in New York and in Afghanistan.
More than 15,000 women and girls have been helped through the organization’s efforts, and more importantly, they have become a voice for women who otherwise have been silenced or marginalized due to pressure from or stigmas within their own community. While there have been many setbacks, founders Naheed Bahram and Sunita Viswanath say that the small victories continue to push them towards their goal – a fully equitable and empowered Afghan women’s voice.
Bahram, whose Muslim faith inspires her social action, says she is buoyed by her commitment to her “sisters in need” and the ongoing effort to fight injustice and inequality. She says she can see the growth and the change in each woman the organization has helped, including “the smile on their children’s faces as they score the highest grade in the class despite being in the country for less than a year.”
Similarly, Viswanath says survivor stories continue to inspire her, and ties her Hindu faith with an ongoing commitment to social justice. “The teachings from my Hindu upbringing — of oneness of all beings, all peoples, the whole universe — require me to live my life as seva or in service to the most marginalized, disenfranchised, those whose rights are the most violated,” says Viswanath, who is also a founder of Sadhana, a coalition of progressive of Hindus.
Read more: Communal Harmony