CHICAGO – Manizha Naderi is fierce. She has a strong voice that does not falter as she describes her rough work with Afghan women and children. At a press conference Sunday morning, Naderi is the only Afghan woman not wearing a hijab. She's casual with a low ponytail and black slacks, and her friendly face is offset by angry eyes as she discusses peace talks between Obama and the Taliban, which she opposes.
Raised in New York, Naderi moved back to her native Afghanistan in 2006 where she's the executive director of Women for Afghan Women, a non-profit based in Kabul and New York City. WAW works with families dealing with child marraige, domestic violence, and other kinds of abuse, supporting women and children with educational programs and community advocacy.
In response to the lack of attention NATO was paying to Afghan women at the summit in Chicago, Amnesty International hosted a Shadow Summit, where Naderi was a panelist. I sat down with her for a short chat.
Alex Pearlman: You run all these shelters all over Afghanistan. Can you explain how WAW works?
Manizha Naderi: Well, it's not just shelters. It's a very holistic program of family guidance centers – that's the real program, and the shelters are attached to the family guidance centers. Because having just shelters, how long are you going to keep people in a shelter? So we have family guidance centers where we mediate and do counseling with the families, and we have lawyers for cases we have to take to court for cases that don't get solved through mediation. So it's a bigger program than just shelters. We also have children's support centers for children who are there for security reasons or their mothers are in prison, that's also part of the shelters and residence programs. Together we have 429 staff members [across eight provinces and two countries].
AP: There have been only about 700 cases of abuse or violence reported and brought before the judiciary, but only 26 of them have been prosecuted through the Violence Against Women Unit in Kabul. Why?
MN: The unit is a very new unit. It opened last February, so that's why the numbers are low and many people don't know about it.
More from GlobalPost: NATO: Women's rights must be part of future plans in Afghanistan
AP: I'm not an expert in this field, but 700 seems like a pretty low number considering the broader issues. What's a realistic, conservative estimate that the number of cases would be, if all violence against women went reported?
MN: I would say 98 percent of Afghan families have experienced one kind of human rights violation, so it could be in the millions.
AP: Have you ever had any threats of violence from the Taliban or the government because of the work that you do?
MN: Yes. All the time, especially our office in Kunduz. Our Province Manager gets threats all the time. There was a time we had to close down our offices because an intelligence service came and told our province manager, "You're on the list of places they're going to suicide bomb. so we had to close it down for a couple of weeks.
AP: You have four daughters. Does hope for their future influence your work? How?
MN: I don't know if they are my influences, because I see every child in Afghanistan as my daughter, so I separate them from that. The work that I do, I was born in Afghanistan, but I was fortunate enough to grow up in the US. Growing up, I saw the violations happening to Afghan women, and I wanted to help out and that's how it started.
For more on women's rights in Afghanistan, check out GlobalPost's Special Report "Life Sentence: Women and Justice in Afghanistan."