Dr. Hasina Rasuli is a Tajik who has felt rejected by her Pashtun associates; tribal tensions are still a fact of life in Afghanistan. 75% of Afghans still live in the rural areas where 30 years of conflict have damaged the structures of schools and other communal buildings, so they are not making very rapid progress. Hasina has been involved as a director and consultant in education and health initiatives, agricultural projects (creating jobs in lieu of poppy production) and women's rights programs, in the rural north. It is important for women from different areas of the country to get together to compare their experiences, she said.
Afghans do not ask for help when they are sick or overstressed; they tend to believe that a visit to a sacred shrine like the Blue Mosque in Masar-e Sharif will solve their problems. She told us of mobile health units set up for people –– adults! –– who had never seen a doctor before, who urgently need health education and family planning advice, but as she became more experienced in her work, Hasina stopped distributing medicine so freely because she realised it was being ignorantly misused.
She admitted that wearing a burqa did allow for freedom of movement outside the home; women recognise one another by their shoes. She is proud of her achievements but now that she has come to Canada she feels she must stay here; she has made such an impact in Afghanistan that she fears it wouldn't be safe for her to go back there. It is traditional for a women living with her parents to be called a "girl" and be expected to behave demurely. Then, once she becomes engaged, she is obliged to wear make-up and jewelry whether she wants to or not. Pride in a woman is considered shameless. Eye-contact with strangers and a self-confident body language –– as in my photos –– would mark her as abnormal over there, a "bad woman." Hasina told us of her younger sisters and of the female medical students who need to overcome these obstacles and attitudes. The recipient of a higher education grant does sometimes gain kudos for the whole family and the increase in income helps. A doctor in Afghanistan will earn $50 per month, a teacher, $30. However, men don't always take their female colleagues seriously even when they work 20 hours a day.
Hasina is writing a book: profiles of "bold" Afghan women.
Some Afghan men are helpful, including her own father, educated by the Russians; she says there are plenty of good men in Afghanistan, but warns of double standards. Some are very willing to support women's advancement, so long as it doesn't concern members of their own families. But if the men can be truly supportive, "that's the solution!" she says.