My name is Ara* and I am an International Medical Corps Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Counselor working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
We are working in a very conservative community. It is indeed a challenging job, particularly for us females. But we are very successful in gaining the trust of the people. I always enjoy my work, as it is for a noble cause. I am very much motivated to work on behalf of such a marginalized group of people. It gives me immense satisfaction.
In the community in which I am working, there is no equal distribution of rights. Men dominate every aspect of living and GBV prevails. These imbalanced situations create problems at home and in the society. Every woman from the community is an inspiration for me all the time because they are surviving for a better future for their families.
We see that the history of GBV starts when women are viewed as a husband’s property. Social beliefs dictated that the husband had the right to physically punish his wife. The main cause was the unequal power relations between men and women. I think now that the status of women in the community is changing day by day. Afghan communities are much more aware that women are not subordinate to their husbands, and that women also have rights like men that are based on their religion, law and society. Women are beginning to take advantage of opportunities like education and make their own decisions. As a result, violence against women is reducing in the community.
In particular, where we are working is an extremely conservative community. At the start of International Medical Corps’ health program a decade ago, the number of Afghan women coming to seek our medical help was very low. Men did not allow their female relatives to get treatment from a male medical practitioner and when they did come, they were accompanied by their husbands, fathers and brothers at the time of treatment. Today the scenario has totally changed. Women rarely feel the need to be accompanied, and the number of female patients has increased drastically. The reason for the change is the hard work of International Medical Corps’ health teams and subsequently the GBV team; their close interaction with the community and their tireless efforts to build a rapport. If we keep this momentum up, the day will come very soon when a society free of violence is established.
*Name changed to protect author’s identity.