High price to pay for working on women's rights in Afghanistan | ActionAid UK

This week I have spent time with Najiba, an incredibly brave woman who risks her life on a daily basis to help women escape violence in Afghanistan.

Despite facing death threats and constantly fearing for her - and her children's - lives, Najiba has become an ActionAid-trained paralegal and runs a shelter for women. She has now helped more than 100 female victims of domestic violence.

Women come together in an ActionAid Reflect Circle to support one another and learn new skills
Women come together in an ActionAid Reflect Circle to support one another and learn new skills

She has travelled all the way from her village in Bamyan province to attend an international conference on Afghanistan, taking place in London tomorrow - 4th December, to tell the world what life is really like for women in her country and to speak up for their rights.

Government ministers, officials and the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, will be there discussing Afghanistan's progress and its future at this critical time when international troops are withdrawing.

What does the future hold?

For Najiba, that future depends on making sure women are educated and know their rights. So four years ago she joined ActionAid's paralegal programme, which trained her in how to provide legal support to women, and assist them in accessing and navigating the formal justice system.

She told me: “Soon the troops will be gone, everybody talks about what will happen after 2014, even children are scared about it. If the economy gets worse and it becomes more difficult for a man to find a job, they will go home and beat their wives.”

Many women still don't know their rights

Many of the women that Najiba works with don't even know that it's against the law for their husbands to beat them. They also don't know that they are allowed to divorce their husband if he ill-treats them, or that they can fight for custody of their children rather than the father automatically taking them.

Among the cases she has worked on was an 18-year-old girl whose family wanted to kill her because she wanted to marry a man from a different ethnic group.

Death threats

The couple escaped to Najiba's shelter and she helped them, but as a result she received death threats from both families. Najiba even had to send her children away for six months for their own safety. She was in tears as she told me this, but she says she has to be strong in order to continue her work.

It is for women like Najiba, and the women that she helps, that we want the international community to make a strong commitment to women's rights at the London Conference. They need to send a clear message that we will not turn our backs on the women of Afghanistan. Anything else would be a betrayal.


Follow @ActionAid UK, Rachel, Rowan and #Afghanfuture on Twitter to get the latest updates from the London Conference on Afghanistan on 4 December.