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Kyoto NGO works to boost Afghan women’s lot, literacy

by Akemi Nakamura

This is the first in a series on how contributions to The Japan Times Readers’ Fund last year — the 52nd since the campaign started — are being put to use. Readers donated ¥1,191,888 in 2006, which has gone to six groups helping needy people across Asia.

Proceeds from The Japan Times Readers’ Fund have helped a Kyoto-based nongovernmental organization improve the lives of women in Afghanistan, giving them opportunities long denied under years of oppressive patriarchy and war.

Thanks in part to ¥229,888 from The Japan Times collection drive, Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development (NICCO) was able to offer women in Herat Province, western Afghanistan, a free course in basic reading and writing of the Dari language, and improved their math and health knowledge.

The 43 female students, aged 11 to 49, were split into two classes and attended lessons for two hours a day, five days a week between April 2006 and September 2007.

Sixty women enrolled, but 17 dropped out because of relocation or opposition from family members, according to the group.

Afghan women were banned from receiving education, working or stepping outdoors without a male chaperone during the 1996-2001 Taliban rule. Oppression of women eased in 2001, when the U.S.-led invasion overthrew the Taliban, but many women are still illiterate and otherwise disenfranchised.

According to a 2006 U.N. report, the literacy rate for Afghan women stood at 12.6 percent, while the percentage for men was 43.1 percent.

Of the 43 women who stuck with the program, 30 said they had never received an education before, said NICCO member Aki Mugita, who runs the project.

“Conditions for women have gradually been improving,” she said. “But for many, attending a class like ours is still difficult, as they need to get permission from their families.”

Most participants felt the program gave them confidence to speak in public and pass on their newly acquired knowledge to family members, according to NICCO — supporting the view that helping women in need benefits their entire communities. One of the women was able to later land a job as a cook.

Information on how to contribute is appearing in the lower-left corner of Page 1 through Dec. 31.